Among your group, you will likely find a diplomat… a diplomatic person. That is always my role, and you need people like me. As a glass-overflowing optimist, I can easily believe the best in a person. I can get along with the Devil himself. The diplomat is the person who should be in most frequent contact with the opposing side and especially the arch nemesis, if you truly have one.
If you’re the hardened skeptic of the group, it may frustrate you that the diplomat can see the good in people who seem shady to you. That’s okay. You need the diplomat to relate to them, bring back helpful intel that wouldn’t be shared with your group otherwise, and give the opposition the sense that you are reasonable people. It may even give the opposition the sense that they have you fooled, placated, out of the way. This creates a false sense of security, which can make them vulnerable. You can exploit this. They think they have you fooled, but the joke is on them. The skeptic is the unseen counterweight they weren’t expecting, and that person’s interrogation of the facts and resulting tactics can hit the opposition in the gut when they’ve let their guard down.
The power comes in the duality… the coupling of the skeptic and the diplomat. Every leadership team needs one of each. Both have long-game optimism about ultimate success, but each analyzes and interrogates new information differently.
Together, your group’s view is stereoscopic. The differing views are the two eyes that combine to give you depth perception. The diplomat can “hang in there” with terrible people and believe that what they’re saying might be true. Diplomats can be gullible at just the right time. Sometimes what you’re being told, you learn later on, was true, although seemingly untrue to the skeptic at the time. The diplomat convinces the skeptic and possibly others in the group who are skeptical to “hold out hope” that the promised collaboration or next step might truly be in the offing. The skeptic is very important, too. He or she is less trusting and, to satisfy their skeptical curiosity, they will dig through public records, engage a city council person to get another take etc. They often bring back troubling contrary information that you’ll have to deal with, but they often corroborate what the diplomat was told and, only then, accept it. If you did not have the diplomat to “hold out hope” and “give people the benefit of the doubt” and “hang in there” while the slow gears of change move, your group would interrogate everything to death and become convinced that the “fix is in.” The fix is never in. Even when it is, it isn’t. Giving in to this way of thinking is defeatist and must be resisted. It is dis-empowering and leads nowhere. The “powers that be” are rarely the conspiratorial, cohesive, malevolent unit that we imagine. They are individuals with agendas, and like most everyone, they are a mix of good and bad qualities. Even truly bad people have good in them and can be motivated to act in accordance with your vision. And you can play off even people’s selfish motives and create change. What matters most is staying at it and remaining hopeful, as a unit. The fix is never in. Your efforts are never hopeless. Hold out hope that you are making progress. If one front seems immovable at any given time, make progress where you can. Keep moving. You have legs the other side does not have. Your cause is more powerful than their selfishness, self-interest and petty, lazy plans built on conventional assumptions and traditional power arrangements. Yes, those systems and players have power, but they are slow-footed and cumbersome. They are used to having their way with minimal effort. They are not fleet of foot like you and your group of Champions. You will work circles around them. They won’t know what hit them. They will have no answer for your implacable commitment and relentless, plucky idealism. In time, many of those forces will be converted. You will win many of them over. Then the staid actors become your allies. At the end of the day, they just want a win, and with the arch enemy long ago vanquished, and in the absence of any good reason to not get on board, they will, and your effort will gain steam, gain allies, and the conversation rate will accelerate. This is the beginning of the home stretch. But be careful. There can and will be setbacks, and you may find that your effort has a whole second half. You thought you were closing out the game, but you find you are only at halftime. Don’t be discouraged. Take heart in knowing that the new theater of work and activity wouldn’t have even been possible if you hadn’t “left it all on the field” in the first half. You are winning.
So, if not in direct, obvious conflict, how to agitate effectively while remaining at the table as one who, in the main, remains optimistic about where things are headed? What people want to see – Joe and Jane Everybody following along strictly by what they read in the news – is progress. Conflict at the outset (waged with respect) is necessary, but people want to see it channeled into healthy, productive change, and ultimately, they want to see “both sides” working together. That has to be the narrative, even if in the background there are all sorts of missteps, lack of agreement, and arguing.