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How to fight for what you believe in – and win

“The reality is when a woman raises her voice or speaks passionately, it’s often viewed as panicky or emotional,” say political strategists Susan Del Percio and Adrienne Elrod. They explain how you can effectively make your case.
From left to right: Adrienne Elrod, Mika Brzezinski, Susan Del Percio
From left to right: Adrienne Elrod, Mika Brzezinski, Susan Del PercioTravis W Keyes

Whether it’s a corporate board retreat, a campaign strategy session or a PTA meeting, we’ve all experienced that moment when a plan is put forward that everyone likes, but a voice in your head is screaming, “this absolutely won’t work.”

Hopefully, you speak up for yourself. But we all know that this is much easier said than done, especially if you are the minority voice in the room trying to convince everyone else that you have a better way forward.

As political strategists with 50 years of combined experience under our belts, we can say without a doubt that we have been there. We both have worked on high-stakes campaigns where many decisions have real consequences and must be made quickly.

We've learned that during these moments when you have a better alternative, you must first ask yourself: Is this worth the fight?

If the answer is yes, then how you present your idea and address the others in the room is critical. A valid alternative argument should be offered in a calm, succinct and convincing manner. Like it or not, the reality is when a woman raises her voice or speaks passionately, it’s often viewed as panicky or emotional. To neutralize this misinformed perception, stay composed and maintain a steady, level voice.

Also, make sure you talk about your experience using concrete examples, which adds credibility to your argument. And take time to connect with people individually to show that you understand the situation and that you’re a good listener who can effectively incorporate other people’s ideas.

Susan’s experience:

Recently, I was brought in to advise a high-profile, non-political client who was going through a reputation management crisis.

I was warned that the client was difficult and surrounded by “yes” people. The team knew that the direction the client was heading was wrong, but also did not want to push back too hard.

After being briefed and listening to the client, how to move forward was clear, but it wasn’t the way the client envisioned. The first thing I did was to take a deep breath. I knew if I showed anything but complete self-assurance, the client would try to shut my plan down. Second, I focused on an area that we agreed on – that no matter what we did, the press would be bad. Third, when I put forward my plan, I gave several examples of times when the press let something go, simply because it wasn’t addressed (which was what I was pitching).

While the client didn’t completely agree, it was decided that we would wait a week and determine if a response was necessary. My confidence gave the client confidence in my recommendations.

The takeaway? You will not always be successful in convincing the decision-makers to approve your idea, but do not be defeated and do not make it personal. Remember you work with these people, so be respectful even when you disagree, and try to learn from each situation.

Adrienne’s experience:

Early on in my career while working on one of my first campaigns, I strongly disagreed with our consultants about using a piece of opposition research against our opponent. With only a few days left in the race, the consultants wanted to leverage negative information with a splashy news conference, thinking if we didn’t “go big,” the press would not cover it.

I could not have disagreed more. We had been running a positive campaign, and I thought it was wrong to stoop to this level. I voiced my concerns and fought for what I thought was the right approach, but the consultants prevailed.

In the end, the consultants were right. The direct accusation from our candidate worked and it helped us win the election. While I do not regret listening to my gut instinct, I learned that experience matters. I also learned from the veteran strategists on our team, who used their previous campaign work to effectively make their case.

The experience made me realize that understanding the dynamics of the situation is essential. Reading a room and understanding if the client likes aggressive or safe solutions can help determine the best strategy.

We also spoke to campaign veteran and digital strategist Jenna Lowenstein, who most recently served as deputy campaign manager to Sen. Cory Booker’s presidential campaign, how she fights for her ideas.

Jenna’s experience:

I’ve worked as a digital strategist in politics for more than a decade, so it’s often my job to shake things up and introduce new strategies like social media or text messaging. That can be a recipe for friction, particularly with team members who have been doing great work long before I arrived.

When I sense conflict coming, I’ve learned to do two things to ensure the best possible outcomes – for me and the organization. First, I transition off email to have conversations in person. Even for a digital native like me, tone of written communication is too often misinterpreted. And facing a conflict in person shows a willingness to get in the trenches and solve problems. Second, I aim to reframe conversations around our goals and then use those goals to assess a situation. If a colleague and I are miles apart on a specific idea, it can be illuminating to have both of us explain how we think our position ladders back to our core goals.

To conclude, office dynamics can be tricky, and standing up for your ideas can be challenging. If you believe it is in the company’s best interest – go for it and make your opinions known. Just remember your presentation may be just as important as your idea, so presented clearly, respectfully and with conviction.