Have you ever said, “vote them all out?”
Do you sometimes think anybody would do a better job than the incumbent? Do you feel you have no influence in Jefferson City, Springfield, or Washington? Do you feel that way because you don’t have thousands of dollars to donate and rich friends with oodles of cash you can bundle?
I feel that way all the time. Ask my friends Ben Evans and Michelle Moore. Twenty times a year, I’m ready to throw up my hands and walk away from politics altogether. Politicians’ actions often bum me out. Ann Wagner supporting the Farm Bill bums me out. The Missouri House Republicans bailing out red light camera companies bums me out. A lot about politics bums me out.
But I have more influence than I think. So do you.
You don’t have to “throw them all out,” which isn’t going to happen, anyway. You don’t have to walk away from self-governance in frustration, either.
The question is, “how do I maximize my power and influence?”
Here are four steps that will increase your influence when talking to a politician–or a car salesman.
1. Know Your Positions and Your Interests and Let Go of Your Positions
Politicians excel at separating you from your interests by focusing on your positions. Most people have no idea what the difference is. If you want to win a negotiation with politician–or anyone else–you need to know this key distinction. And you need to lose your emotional attachment to positions.
A position is very specific and immediate. “I want an ice cream cone.” Or, “I want to defeat Ann Wagner.”
Your interest, though, is the result you want for yourself. It’s why you think you need your position.
Let’s use a career example, which is more familiar to many than political negotiation.
Your position: You want a management job and a six-figure salary. You work like a dog, build your case, brush up your resume, and land that management job for $120,000 a year.
Then you find yourself working 80 hours a week, you’re on the road half the time, and you’re warring with your family and your co-workers all the time. Your boss tells you to cut your staff by 20 percent, which means you have fire five good people so the shareholders can pocket extra cash before some tax increase takes effect.
You got your coveted position, but you’re not happy. Your position wasn’t aligned to your interests.
Your Interests: You wanted that title and that salary was because you wanted status and money. That’s your “why.” You wanted money and status so you could you do more for your family. Or maybe treat your friends to a drink now and then, or take your kids on a Disney vacation, or just feel successful. You wanted to be happy, healthy, and respected, not tired, miserable, and despised.
By blindly pursuing your position, you took yourself further away from your real interests.
Back to politics. Why did you become interested in the Farm Bill? Was it because farm subsidies mean a lot to you? Or was it because the Farm Bill balloons the debt? Or because the Farm Bill grows government dependency?
Focusing on how one representative votes on one bill one time might win your position. It might also work against your interests.
Politicians excel at using positions to advance their interests. For example, they hold many votes on a single bill so they can vote both ways. Senator Roy Blunt could have stood with Ted Cruz and blocked cloture on the budget bill last year. Instead, he voted for cloture, ensuring the budget bill would pass. Then he voted against the bill on the floor, so he could say, “I voted against it.”
What you and I might call duplicity, the politician calls looking out for his own interests..
The first step in negotiation, then, is to write down your position and your interest. In fact, write down lots of positions and detach yourself from those positions. Detach your emotions. Paint a vivid mental picture of your interests. Never surrender or compromise your interests. Use positions to advance your interests.
2. Forget “Win-Win”
Forget all that talk about “win-win.” It’s all B.S. As negotiating guru Jim Camp says:
A win-win negotiation is not controlled in a clear, step-by-step way. That’s just one reason win-win gets slaughtered in the real business world, again and again and again. I know chief executives who are proud of their deal making, but they have no discipline, no real basis for making their decisions. They’re shooting from the hip under the assumption that everyone else is shooting from the hip.
Your member of Congress is not shooting from the hip. She’s not interested in “win-win.” She’s interested in re-election and increased power and status in her caucus. She wants to keep people happy–the people who have money to donate, influence to peddle, or voters to mobilize. And it doesn’t matter who “she” is. All politicians know their interests and they know how to negotiate with voters anchored to positions.
3. Let Them Say “No”
You know that famous business book, “Getting to YES?” It’s crap, too. Forget it. Do the opposite. Try to get to no because you must hear “no” before the real negotiation begins.
How can this be? Because “no” is a real decision that induces the party across the table into actually thinking about why they’ve just said “no.” The responsibility of making a clear decision helps the adversary focus on the real issues of the negotiation. The adversary has to take responsibility for “no,” so now everyone has something real to talk about. In fact, as we will soon see, the mere invitation for the other side to say “no” changes the dynamic of a negotiation in a very beneficial way.
Here’s how to start your negotiation with a politician.
“This might not be the right position for you, I don’t know. It’s okay to tell me to get lost. You won’t hurt my feelings. I’m just interested in how you feel about the Farm Bill, and I’d like to see if we agree on the long term strategy for shrinking government.”
Look what just happened.
First, you told her that you’re interested in (a) what’s best for her (“This might not be right for you”), and (b) her feelings. Not just her intellect, but her human, emotional feelings. Like it or not, politician or not, nobody in a negotiation really cares about you–until you show her that you care about her. That politician is a human being, too, with a brain wired just like yours. She has a family, kids, friends, and worries. Letting her know that you will respect and safeguard her feelings and her best interest will lead her to do the same for you.
Next, you’ve reminded her that you are a human being, too. You are more than just a voter registration number with no money to donate and no time to knock on doors for her. You’ve humanized and humbled yourself. And you’ve humbled yourself for the right reason. Not because you’re a lowly voter in the presence of an exalted Member of Congress. You are a human being, a meager sinner, just like her.
Finally, you’ve avoided talk of your position and promoted your shared interest instead. At the same time, you’ve asked her to stake out her position. In other words, you’ve gained all the power in this conversation. You put yourself in charge of her interests but asked her to defend her position.
4. Accept “No” Again
The more you’re willing to hear her say “no,” the more likely you are to win a final agreement. Nobody likes high-pressure sales, right? Do you enjoy a car salesman asking you every two minutes, “so I can get you into this car today?”
No. You hate it, and so does everybody else. Politicians hate being “sold” a position. They hate it so much that they usually say, “You’re right. I’ll vote against the Farm Bill.”
And they do. They vote against it in committee or on some procedural vote or some amendment. Or they get Congressman X from Oregon to vote for the Farm Bill so they can vote against it. It’s the political equal of telling that pushy car salesman, “I’ll think about it,” or “I need to talk it over with my wife.”
As former FBI chief hostage negotiator told Eric Barker, you don’t want to hear “you’re right.” Why?
Because we love it when somebody tells us we’re right. It’s usually when we’re making an argument and we’ve worn the other side down, and they’re just sick of us… Even if I believe in my heart that you are right, I’m not vested when you’re right. But when I say “that’s right,” I’ve put myself in a position of adjudicating what you’ve said, and I’ve pronounced what you’ve said right. There’s a much greater chance that I’m going to accept it if I’ve said “that’s right” as opposed to “you’re right.”
Instead, make the politician say “no.” Force her to make a true decision, to take a stand. Then ask open ended questions.
Open ended questions do two things:
They build rapport by letting her speak freely and openly.
They force her give good reasons for supporting a bill that contradicts her stated ideology.
Here are some examples.
“Why are you so committed to this particular bill?”
“What about this bill makes you want to vote for it?”
“People will ask me, so what are 10 good reasons why my friends and I should support this bill?”
These questions won’t induce her to say, “I was wrong. I’m going to fight this bill tooth and nail.” In fact, you probably won’t change her vote on this bill. But this isn’t the last bill you care about, and it’s probably not the most important.
What you will do with this method is far more valuable that winning your position on one bill. You’ve become a trusted sounding board for a member of Congress. She will seek you out in a crowd. She will take your phone calls. Because you made her feel safe and respected.
Someday, she will cast a difficult vote because you gained influence in her mind. She will know that she cannot shew you away with “I’ll vote against something for you.” She’ll respect the intellectual challenges you pose while respecting even more the emotional cover you provide.
That’s how you win your interests and change her position. And gain a reputation as a level-headed advocate for you cause at the same time. It’s a lot easier, less expensive, and more satisfying that wasting your time “voting them all out.”
But don’t you dare call it a “win-win.”