Advocacy Curriculum: Using Scary Stories and Treats to Advocate Your Position

Oct 28, 2021, 11:13 AM by MSDC Staff
It's not scary to talk about an issue before a policymaker, but be prepared with treats rather than tricks to make your point.

With Halloween around the corner, this month's advocacy curriculum article takes a scary turn - how to successfully convince a policymaker or staff of your position. The answer is stickier than a caramel apple and has more twists and turns than a haunted house, and there are many ways to convince someone of your cause. Below we outline a few proven strategies to effectively argue your position before a policymaker.

First, of course, is telling the truth. Anytime you meet with a policymaker at any level of government you want to make sure what you say is not a falsehood, intentional or accidental. There is no better way to lose an argument or credibility than to lie in a meeting. However, the truth is not enough when swaying a person to your position. As we have all witnessed, stating something factual (like vaccines save lives) is not a definitive way to win an argument. Other persuasive means should also be employed.

Anticipate the counterargument: GR strategist Amy Showalter explains this principle as boosting your Trust Quotient. By anticipating what others will say about your argument and disarming it in advance, you are seen as a more trusting messenger on your issue. For example, when discussing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, you can say, "you'll hear from people that it is un-American or not normal. In fact, the government and business have required different types of vaccines throughout history." By showing you know what other people are arguing on an issue and immediately countering it, you add credibility to your argument.

Tell a story: As physicians and medical students, we have a number of stories about ourselves and our patients. When meeting with a lawmaker - almost all of whom only have experienced medicine as a patient - a look "behind the scenes" is a great way to engage the listener. Sharing a story or an experience of your work and how the issue being discussed would impact it is a terrific way to drive home a point outside of statistics. For example. Dr. Sahil Angelo used examples of patients struggling to afford insulin to advocate for a bill that would limit out-of-pocket insulin costs (watch here). Just make sure you protect your patients' identity! 

Conversely, listen to your audiences' story: As mentioned, most policymakers experience healthcare as a patient. The issue you're discussing may have a personal impact on them or their families, so be prepared to listen to their stories as well. By following the first two tips, you can anticipate a story that undercuts your argument and respond appropriately.

Bring it home: Like all of us, legislators are concerned about keeping their jobs. That means their focus on many issues is how it impacts their constituents. Facts matter but facts about their constituents are the most important. When talking about an issue, be prepared to make it local for them. If your practice or home is in their district, that makes it easier! But if the issue impacts their constituents in a specific way, be prepared to talk about that.


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