The Short Answer
1. Acknowledge that some cynicism is justified.
2. Get to action quickly. Taking action which makes a difference is the best cure for cynicism.
3. Jettison jargon.
4. Involve respected partners.
5. Recognize that some people will never come around.
This is a big problem. There have been many past efforts that have been all talk and no action. People are rightly cynical about new efforts which promise change.
(1) Perhaps the most important thing to do with such cynicism is to recognize its validity. People have heard “this will be different” enough times to be justifiably suspicious.
(2) The second most important thing to do is to have a track of work which gets to action quickly. Don’t involve the cynical people in the parts of the process that will take months to get to a tangible product or action. Get them involved in a turn the curve process which gets lots of partners actively involved in creating and implementing a strategy to turn a particular curve (whether it’s grafitti or juvenile crime or the drop out rate). Taking action which makes a difference is the best cure for cynicism.
(3) It may also be helpful to help them understand the idea of results, the conditions of well-being you want for your children, families and community, stated in plain language. They may have been put off by all the jargon used in past efforts. If you can sit down and say, “Here’s what’s important: children are born healthy, they’re ready for school, they succeed in school, they grow up to be productive and contributing adults, we live in a safe and supportive community.” These conditions may turn out to be things they also think of as important. If you can then show how the work will move from rhetoric about these good things to some meaningful action, they may be more inclined to participate.
(4) Don’t create new cynics. The best way to do this is to waste people’s time at endless meetings. Make sure your meetings are crisp and business like and action oriented. (See the “Agenda” overhead)
(5) Involve respected partners in this work. Sponsors who are serious will add credibility.
6) Finally, recognize that there are some people who will never come around. Be realistic about when it is time to cut your losses and let a partner go… for the time being. But If that person is important in the (state, county city or community) come back to them later (or periodically) and check in. If your effort really is making a difference, they may want to sign on later. Success will attract partners you never thought possible.