Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Gentlewoman's Guide to Engaging with Activists

Perhaps the best culmination of my last 5 1/2 years is to share what I've learned about engaging with activists, or with anyone really.  But it’s the activists that require the “Gentle” in “Gentlewoman”.

A few weeks ago shared an off-the-record breakfast with one of Fractavia’s most renowned activists. This breakfast reminded me that I’ve learned more than just a truckload of facts about oil and gas development in my COGA tenure. I’ve learned to engage thoughtfully, civilly, and persuasively.

I’m not expecting to score any points from activists with this blog. I’m entirely out of patience with rhetoric, fear mongering, and “solutions” that are completely disconnected from the reality of energy demand and our way of life’s interdependence with oil and gas. The audience I want is the oil and gas worker, supporter, or thoughtful user, who wants to engage in discussions with integrity, patience, and hope.

The First Rule 

The rules of engagement are simple on the surface. In reality, they require self-awareness and more commitment to having a conversation than on being right. I probably don’t need to mention that this can be very challenging. But, you’re banging your head against a concrete wall unless you try something new, so you might as well give these rules a try.

Gentlewoman’s Rule #1: Everyone gets treated like a concerned citizen, even if they look and act like an activist. 

It’s too easy, and frankly lazy, to dismiss people who look or sound like activists as professional nuts. Industry advocates do this a lot and it is not helpful. It alienates an awful lot of people who can, should, and ultimately will join the pragmatic conversation about energy development.

Many, many community members get worked up and scared over what they have heard about oil and gas development in general or fracking in particular. Many of them have no idea what’s fact, what’s fiction, and what’s relevant to their life. So, step one is to respect their fear, and seek to understand it.

Upon encountering that first challenge, whether over a family gathering or keg of beer, take a deep breath. Engage your curiosity and ask yourself, I wonder what is driving their perspective?