The Crystal Ball Series: Issue 5 – Your Inner Tiger Mom

One of the most surprising calls I received after I left my job running the Colorado Oil and Gas Association was from a retired oil and gas executive. He cut to the chase: Developers are building a strip mall near my house. Can you connect me to an environmental organization who can help me stop it? I figure no one knows better than you or them what tactics will work.

You’ll soon be surprised by how much you have in common with the communities that oppose oil and gas development.

This is the final installment in the Crystal Ball five-part series.

Both of these things are true:

  • Opponents to your line of business live in a different worldview than you.
  • Your company, your employees, and you have more in common with them than differences.

The problem crystal ball reveals

Our long experience working on controversial projects has demonstrated again and again that vilifying opponents creates unnecessary obstructions to the stakeholder engagement required to get your project permitted, built, and operated. I’m not just talking here about seeking that superficial common ground of clichés. I’m always on the lookout for those fundamental, non-negotiable priorities that make us who we are – our inner tiger mom.

  • You and they both seek peace and respite. We each head home at the end of a chaotic day and want some peace and quiet (and in my case, a beer). We rarely get either, especially if you’ve got kids to get through activities, sports, and homework – but that’s chaos of our own making. None of us wants to hear our neighbor’s dog bark – let alone have to deal with any aspects of a construction or industrial operation.
  • You and they both want to protect the kids. This is just non-negotiable and strikes at the beating heart of anyone tasked with leadership, whether it’s the HOA or a state agency. If there’s any uncertainty, any fear, any danger at all, we all rally around protecting our little people. Want to see me lift a car? I’m quite certain I could, if required to stop a threat to my boys.
  • You and they both plan for the future. My plan for the future is for everything to stay exactly how it is, or perhaps get better in very minor ways that were my idea. Isn’t this true for you?
  • You and they both avoid or – if unavoidable – want to control change. Which brings us to your project – which is change that your neighbors and opponents cannot control. Just imagine an uninvited bulldozer in your front yard to kick up some empathetic adrenaline.
  • You and they both want to… throw the bastards out. Yeah, when in doubt, it’s pretty easy to rally around this idea.

It matters because

To get your project permitted, built, and operated – your company will have to transcend thinking in oppositional terms, and move into collaboration-on-steroids. The most powerful tool in your toolbox is your ability to relate to your stakeholders and opponents, especially their fundamental fears and desire to control their surroundings.

The critical mistakes companies are making: 

Vilifying or dismissing opponents as “professional activists,” unreachable, or impractical.  “We will never win them over” is absolutely true when you start from this perspective.

Seize the day.  To (1) engage meaningfully with your stakeholders, and (2) win the respect of the public observing your interactions, you need to think differently about your neighbors and their potential opposition. At Adamantine, we suggest this exercise for your team:

In a team brainstorm format, work through these questions from the perspective of your project’s activists or opponents.

  1. In my personal life, the things I care about include… (family, pets, home, nature, politics, work, sports, hobby, health…)
  2. In my activism, the things I care about are… (air, water, family, noise, dust, disturbance, climate change, pollution, health)
  3. I’m right because…
  4. My tactics are okay because…
  5. Lines I will not cross in my activism include…
  6. In the end, success for my group and I looks like…

Then ask your team to reflect in writing on their own individual answers to the following questions before discussing as a group.

  1. What would have to happen in your community for you to… show up at a local government meeting to make a statement? Attend a protest?
  2. Has there been a time in your life that you have protested, or thought about protesting?
  3. If you were a neutral member of the public in our conflict, which side do you find more credible? Why?
  4. If you were a neutral member of the public in our conflict, what would have to happen for you to take their side? Our side?

Reflect upon any insights or “aha!” moments as a group. From this exercise, formulate an action plan as a group to ensure your team can stay non-reactive when facing intense criticism. Then, on a different day, reflect again. Seeking common ground is ultimately a very personal exploration, and participants need time to evolve their thinking. Revise your engagement plan accordingly. 

We’ve come from the front lines and can tell you: this is some of the most pragmatic work you will ever do, reach out if you could benefit from a guide. 

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