Issue managers must do more than dispense facts. They must battle for trust.
Widespread skepticism is one of the biggest handicaps in trying to manage a public issue. You may have all the facts and figures, but if neighbors, community activists and even policymakers don't believe they are true, you are nowhere.
There is no formula for building trust, but there are some tried and true principles in the battle for trust. Here are some of them:
Tell Your Story — the Whole Story
You need to tell your story, but you gain credibility by telling the whole story. Better to hear it all — good and bad — from you than from your opponents.
Telling the whole story won't automatically build trust, but it establishes you are trustworthy, which is a very good beginning in the battle for trust.
Be Proactive, Don't Wait
Avoid the temptation of letting sleeping dogs lie. They aren't asleep. If your project, legislation or business model faces opposition, don't wait to address it.
Go to the source of opposition, listen and find out what the real problems are, then deal with them. Concerns you can erase by quick, decisive action make it harder for opponents to gain traction, while helping to win the battle for trust.
Personal Is Always Best
Meet with someone face to face if possible, rather than conversing by email or phone. Looking someone in the eye makes it harder for even the most rabid skeptic to blow you off while considering what you have to say. You may not convince them of your point of view, but you will convey to them you are a frontline soldier in the battle for trust.
Validate Your Claims
Facts with credible backup are hard to refute. Cynics may dismiss information, but the average person will be impressed with solid support for claims you make. Credible third-party validation is the secret weapon in the battle for trust.
Show Them What You Mean
People trust what they see more than what they hear, so show them what you either are doing or want to do. Tours of similar facilities — and access to neighbors of those facilities — can be game-changers. Demonstration videos also can be eye-opening. Seize the higher ground from opponents in the battle for trust by showing why your project is needed and how it will be safe.
Contentious projects produce controversy and often loud, rancorous criticism. Embrace it as part of the process and respond with solid information, credible validation and, above all, an abundance of patience. Cool heads win the day in the battle for trust.
Policy debates and public issues aren't settled solely on the basis of facts. Victory is claimed by the warriors in the battle for trust who win over supporters and overwhelm opponents.