Cory, my roommate from college, returned from the pub one night triumphant with a slip of paper with seven digits scribbled across it in blue ink.He spent the next hour recounting the tale of how his eye contact made from across the room led him to walk up to the girl as she stood at the bar and end up with her phone number. After listening to him go on for another few minutes about how it was a turn of events he didn’t see occurring to him, I finally asked
“So are you going to call her now?”
“Sure,” he said, “But first I have to figure out what to say”. That was when the panic set in.
“What if I fumble and mess up completely? I don’t want to sound unfunny or like I’m trying too hard!” It went on.
Convincing Cory that the tough part was already over and all he had to do was dial the number remains one of the bigger achievements of my college years.
Volunteers operating patch-through calls for grassroots organizations face a similar dilemma every day. People they call might say they care about the issue or bill under discussion and even be willing to write an email or sign a petition about it, but when asked if they would want to voice their concern directly to the representative’s office, they would say no. There could be a number of reasons behind why people feel reluctant to talk directly with their elected officials.
Understanding the cause behind the refusal will make it easier for campaign workers to convince these people to commit to the call. So let’s look at some reasons why constituents would hesitate from voicing their opinion.
Being nervous or having social anxiety
While rarely addressed, this is one of the top reasons people avert social interaction. The person you are speaking with might face anxiety due to various reasons. They may falter over getting their point across in conversation or face difficulty in focussing on what to say. Maybe English is not their first language and they have no idea what questions they might have to answer. Maybe they fear that they would end up saying the wrong thing which will lead to a humiliating situation.
The volunteer’s job is to recognize the reluctance the person shows and ask for what concerns them. Explaining to them who they would be speaking to ( mostly a college-aged legislative assistant ) and what they have to say would help them understand it’s not going to be a situation on thin ice. It also helps to prep them on questions the assistant might ask. Usually, it’s just if they expect a response. This is a fine comic by someone who faces the same issues talking about how they confront their fears to advocate for issues that matter.
Feeling unprepared to get the point across
There are some people who may be informed enough about the issue but when the volunteer calls and asks if they want to be patched through to the representative’s office, they are suddenly caught off guard and feel unprepared to voice themselves. It is quite common for people to push off important tasks when they feel incompetent to handle the situation. It might be a result of not knowing what to say or whether they can clearly get the point across. Someone might have a tendency to ramble on without a script to guide them through.
The volunteer would be able to know when the person is aware of the issue but is hesitant to call at the current moment. The volunteer has to, then, let them know it is going to be a quick conversation and the exact points they have to cover for their opinion to be recorded. The most they have to offer is their zip code, the bill no. they are addressing and where they stand in regard to it (example. “I oppose the bill and I want the Senator to vote NO on it”). Let the caller know that the staffer answering calls will hardly take down much detail so it doesn’t have to be a long, winded conversation (which also holds up the line for other callers).
Feeling they are not educated on the matter
This is one of the reasons a majority of callers decline to speak with their elected officials regarding a particular issue. While they may be aware of the matter in general, having been exposed to it through the media, they do not know much about the exact bill being voted on in congress. Not being informed about the name of the bill nor the arguments made for and against it by both sides makes them feel they are not in a position to talk about it directly with the representative’s office. They may be under the impression that they would have to reason why they hold the opinion to someone who is much more knowledgeable about the issue than they are.This makes them fear being put on the spot.
Volunteers often talk to constituents who’d begin with saying they know about the issue and that they support the organization’s stance but do not keep up with the progress of the matter in congress. The volunteer can recognize when someone hesitates to call the representative because they feel uninformed on the matter to make a convincing argument on it. In such cases, they should explain that the staffer receiving the call would mostly be an intern who’s job is to record the message received into a Constituent Management System (CMS). They do not expect an explanation on why the person calling holds their opinion. Sometimes, the staffer themselves would not know much about the issue beyond the bill number.
Feeling it’s a big commitment on their part
Sometimes the volunteer would come across a working person with a busy schedule who would affirm that they support the cause but say they do not have the time to do anything on their part. When it comes to grassroots initiatives, people often hold the opinion it takes time and commitment out of their daily lives. Many working class people are not open to any extra commitment when they already lead hectic lives.
The volunteer should explain that a call to record their message takes no more than two minutes. Walk them through the basics of what the message requires for their opinion to be recorded or even provide a script to help them through the call. In case the person says they are busy at the moment, the volunteer can set up a callback at a time that is convenient for them.
Considering a call would accomplish nothing
The representative of the constituent may already be a member of the opposing party. Perhaps the representative themselves is a vocal advocate of the side holding opposing view on the matter of the bill being discussed. Maybe the person never voted for the representative and feels their view is never going to be taken into consideration. Feeling their opinion doesn’t count would lead a lot of callers to decline speaking to the representative’s office because they consider it a waste of time.
The volunteer should explain to the caller that there is a system in place to record the messages they leave at the representative’s office. No matter how you contact – by fax, email, post or call, the opinions of all constituents are recorded and tallied through a Constituent Management System. If enough people leave messages about a particular bill or issue, the representative is bound to bring it under consideration. Whether or not the constituents’ opinion factor in their final decision, the representative would be aware that the public would remember how well they were represented once they face re-election.
Now, these are only a few of the concerns that might lead a constituent to refuse to be patched through to their representative and leave their opinion. Let’s go through them once again.
- Being nervous or having social anxiety
- Feeling unprepared to get the point across
- Feeling they are not educated on the matter
- Feeling it’s a big commitment on their part
- Considering a call would accomplish nothing
There may be a variety of other reasons behind the person saying no to making a short call. The volunteer’s job is to recognize their hesitation, figure out the cause and talk them through it. Remember there is a Cory in all of us who sometimes needs the right push to take the step that leads us forward.