MYTH #4: Opposition arguments can be safely ignored.

Just because it’s difficult to persuade opponents does not mean their assertions should be ignored. First, let’s distinguish between opponents’ weak and strong arguments. How do you deal with strong opposition arguments that your audience is likely to hear?

Social psychology suggests that inoculating the audience against the anti-project attack is the most effective technique. This involves forewarning and forearming the audience with a rebuttal. It works in much the same way as inoculation against measles or tuberculosis, where a benign form of the disease is introduced to create immunity against infection.

Begin by framing the argument in a reasonable manner: “Some people say that townhouse apartments are unsightly and will fall into disrepair.”

Then, provide an immediate rebuttal: “We have a 25 year track record of building and managing attractive communities. We have won many awards for creating high quality townhouses throughout the state and we invite you to visit our communities and see for yourself.”

When a project opponent later launches an attack, your audience has already been inoculated – they have been warned in advance and armed with an immediate rebuttal.

But the weakest arguments your opponents are using – those with which your audience are least likely to agree – deserve different treatment. When the community or elected officials ask who opposes the project, trot out that weak anti-project argument as a rationale for opposition attacks.

Pro-civil rights city council member: “You’ve explained your project’s community benefits to me. But who is against your project? What are they saying?”

Project Sponsor: “Well, the leading naysayer is stirring up opposition by claiming multi-family housing increases crime. He says our creating affordable housing for working families will ruin the character of the neighborhood.”

There are arguments that you may want your audience to hear. But how can you determine which anti-project assertions are effective, and which are weak or even unpopular with an audience? Public opinion polling is an option for larger groups such as voters citywide or a specific neighborhood. For smaller audiences such as elected officials, you will want to look closely at their public records and political constituencies, and ask people in the know how they are likely to react.

Finally, there are opposition arguments that are only moderately effective. These arguments can usually be safely ignored unless you believe they will be key elements in community debate.

Frank Noto

About Frank Noto

Frank Noto is president of GCA Strategies, which helps mobilize community and governmental support for controversial land use projects. The firm has successfully assisted clients from Maui to Maryland to overcome NIMBY opposition and win local real estate entitlements. For more information, contact him at fnoto@GCAStrategies.com or (415) 834-5645, or see the GCA website at www.gcastrategies.com.

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