This post is part of LEE’s Elected Leader FAQ virtual course, which contains resources and tips for elected leaders and also senior leaders in policy, advocacy, and organizing roles.
As leaders, it’s inevitable you’ll face politically charged controversies impacting your community and society-at-large. At a national level, LEE members have especially seen this, recently under the guise of “Critical Race Theory,” with anti-equity attacks on important topics affecting children in schools today, like LGBTQIA issues, trauma-informed practices, social-emotional issues, culturally-responsive practices, and ethnic studies curriculum. While the nature of these controversies are out of your control, you can control the way you react and respond.
Here are some tips to consider when communicating about issues that have become politically controversial, so you can avoid distracting conversations and stay focused on your education priorities. The main headline is: know yourself, be prepared, and stay calm.
General communication tips:
- Be prepared.
- Identify your key messages (no more than 3).
- Know your message and tie back your answers to your key messages.
- Know your audience.
- Lead with shared values, not problems.
- Focus on what you are for, not what you are against.
- Avoid using education, policy, or legal jargon.
- When communicating your values and the issues you stand for, always connect it to outcomes and tie back to your key messages.
- Consider two communication strategy approaches:
- The Reflective Approach: Shift the conversation to the key messages you want to discuss. This approach allows you to answer the questions you want to answer and not the one that is asked. Do so with a calm, approachable delivery.
- The Direct Approach: Let others talk about the issue while you remain calm, letting the audience decide who has the better judgment. Then use their motivations as a bridge to talk about your equity agenda and your key messages.
In order to keep your equity agenda for kids moving forward, it's critical to keep lines of communication open, even with those we disagree with, in order to accomplish more for kids and communities.
Additional tips on communicating about controversial issues:
- Stay calm.
- Be comfortable with your position and with yourself.
- To be seen as credible, you should be aware of different sides of the issue, including those with which you disagree.
- If asked, briefly acknowledge other views, but go back to your key messages. If the “other view” you’re being asked about infringes on your beliefs, it is ok to push back strongly but calmly and reframe the issue as one of fundamental values.
- Attack issues, not people.
- Don’t take opposing views personally.
- Try to find common ground with those who have opposing views, even if it doesn’t involve the controversial issue.
- What do you do? What do you stand for? And why do you do it?
- What values and priorities do you want to present to community members with whom you engage?
- In dealing with conflict over controversial issues, is there some objective standard that can be used to encourage a resolution all parties could live with?
- Communications Strategy Toolkit
- Communicating Amidst Controversy: Getting Your Point Across Without Making Enemies. Created by Martha Filipic, firstname.lastname@example.org, 12/2009
- Critical Race Theory Communications Guidance for Education Leaders
- Developing Key Messages and Talking Points
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