Anna C. Briggs, founder of The National Humane Education Society, had a favorite saying: You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. While Mrs. Briggs would never entertain the thought of ever harming a fly let alone trying to catch one (other than to release the fly to the great outdoors), the meaning of that saying is clear. If you want to catch people’s attention and attract them to your cause, you have to entice them with something they will like, something they can relate to; not with pungent comments and sour expressions.
If you want to communicate your point of view about, say, circuses, zoos, and other animal entertainment venues—that you object to them and that they should all be shut down—then someone who has gone to the circus since he was a child or who visits the zoo yearly with her family will most likely not listen to you if you attack their actions. You must first get on their side so they can identify with you and then your message has believability. For instance, you might ask people if they have pets. If they say yes, get them talking about their pets and how much the animals mean to them and how much they care for them. Begin to move the thought of caring for a companion animal to the care an animal might get who is made to perform. Don’t prod the listener with a bullhook. Rather, gently tap the person on the shoulder (metaphorically speaking, that is) to get them to begin to take the love and care they have for their own animals and spread it around to other animals.
Help to open people’s hearts and then their minds with a message they can hear rather than one that will repel them from your point of view. Finding common ground—a place where you and your listener both can agree—starts a conversation that would never have occurred if you had come from a place of “you should.” And that brings up another issue—language and word choice. Be especially careful of the “us” and “them” syndrome. Using inclusive pronouns, like “we” and “our,” will help your listener feel connected to you.
When you think about it…creating walls with the words you use and the position you take only makes it harder for your audience to hear your message. Anyone for a little honey?