We often don’t give a lot of thought to who delivers our message. But we should, because weight assigned to any information or advice depends a lot on the person offering it. It is therefore important to identify partners or spokespersons that can deliver your message credibly and persuasively.
Here are some suggestions:
- People listen to people whom they believe are on their side and have a similar worldview. You may have seen mentions of “tribal politics” in the news recently; this is the same idea. We tend to attend to, believe, and follow people who are in our tribe. So, finding an “insider” partner or spokesperson can help you get a fairer hearing, especially when dealing with particularly wary audiences or controversial issues.
- Fortunately, being a tribe insider is not necessary for persuasion. Just liking the messenger can be enough. While liking can be based on many qualities, having something in common is a good start. Spokespersons who are able to find common ground with different types of people are likely to be more effective.
- People also pay more attention to a message when it is delivered by a spokesperson that contradicts their expectations. We expect environmental organizations to preach the Gospel of conservation. But, when business or church leaders stand up for action on a particular conservation issue, it is seen as important enough to transcend special interests.
- Finally, people who are generally respected in their communities often carry weight and influence on matters that may be quite unrelated to their areas of expertise. While this may seem odd, roll with it; if your audience is used to accepting advice from the local pastor, try to recruit him to be your messenger.
So where do natural resource professionals figure in this list of influential messengers? Your expertise does matter, but don’t assume that it makes you credible and influential. Even with audiences that respect you for your qualifications, you can boost your persuasiveness quotient by finding common ground with your audience; showing them you’re on their side; and perhaps contradicting their expectations in some way.