A Simple Way to Help People Trust You a Little More: May Newsletter

Dear Valued Associate,

Back with another newsletter, as the creator intended. You’ve probably been seeing a lot of intentionally distracting publicity about “fake news” the past few weeks, as well as a lot of disturbing new data about the tragic loss of so many small town newspapers in this country. It reminded me of something that Thomas Jefferson once said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

May is usually about the time when people start day dreaming about Usain-Bolting out of work and onto their upcoming summer vacations. I hope you have something extra-good planned this year. I’ll look for you out around a lake somewhere and throw an extra brat on in case you stop by. And, while you’re goofing off, don’t forget to …

Stay curious,


The Case for an Engaged Public

Just so happens that I’m writing this from Chicago (Second City, that Toddlin’ Town, the City of Broad Shoulders, Hog butcher for the world, or as the Wall Street Journal called it, Beirut by the lake) this week. I’m teaching the weeklong IAP2 Foundations in Public Participation course to a bunch of smart folks from around the U.S. It’s always nice to spend some time in the city that invented skyscrapers, and given the topic of the week, I thought you might like reading a slightly longer piece on the wisdom and value of (re)empowering citizens to not just elect their representatives but to stay engaged in the direct activities of their government. The work of democracy is far too important to simply concede to politicians.

I found another compelling argument in favor of public involvement from a somewhat surprising source – Michael Burke, Chairman and CEO of AECOM, one of the largest engineering and design firms on the planet. Burke points out that “For too long, government, financiers, engineers, and policy experts have operated in independent silos, and often without the benefit of an involved and educated public.” If you’d like some help in justifying the work that we do, read on for more of his reasoning.

Death and Consequence of Public Trust

Past issues of this newsletter have had lots of pieces on the decline of public trust and the critical need for the public sector to (re)build credibility with the people that it’s supposed to serve. I don’t think there’s a more obvious and glaring example of the consequence of distrust than the growing measles outbreak in the U.S. Now over 700 cases nationally, according to the CDC, the most in 25 years. And my state of Arizona is a ground zero example because of its policy that allows parents a “personal belief exemption” that lets them opt out of vaccinating their kids which, of course, puts all the other kids at risk. Maybe it’s in part because they buy the BS of celebs promoting themselves as autism gurus, but the fact is that gullible moms and dads are making uninformed and downright dangerous decisions about the health of everyone’s children – against the best medical advice and reams of evidence. We expect government to provide for our safety, which in turn means that government needs to inoculate itself from feeding the anti-government mentality – it has to learn to communicate better.

The research clearly shows that people just don’t trust institutions anymore, but there are exceptions to every rule and here are a few. Here are some people and organizations that we DO trust – see any patterns?


One Very Simple Way to Make People Trust You a Little More and Dislike You a Little Less

I’ve been tearing my hair out working to resolve an ongoing problem caused by my (now former) bank for the past several months. If you’ve had to try to find a live, responsive human person hidden somewhere in the phone tree at a bank, insurance agency, cable or other utility, government agency or almost any other big institution lately, you can probably relate – it can be incredibly frustrating. If you work in or with a public institution, know that people are judging you by your responsiveness and yes, that includes the little things like the timing and tone of returned calls and emails. Your lack of responsiveness comes off as arrogance. It’s just one of several attributes that cause people to get more or less angry or trusting of you, but it’s a big one, and yes, it’s that important.


Relatively Simple and Exceptionally Effective Presentation Skills

Great presenters and speakers are made – not born – so do yourself a favor and carve out sixteen (16) minutes to watch and absorb a couple of these tips, it’ll make you more effective.


Empathy Isn’t The Magic Fix We Think It Is

Empathy is on the decline. This is pretty startling information because we talk about empathy a whole lot in this work. Research suggests that people are getting less empathic – or empathetic, if you prefer. And, in fact, people are getting more selectively empathic, meaning that we might care about, and can empathize with, people of our own persuasion, but we really don’t or can’t care as much about those with whom we can’t relate. In fact, this “selective” empathy is actually deepening our divisions. Those of us in the public engagement and facilitation biz often like to think that if we can just help people see things through each other’s eyes, we’ll be able to bridge the political divides and conflicts; turns out, not so much. Selling benevolence isn’t going to cut it. Ultimately, people will have to come to an understanding that altruism isn’t about taking care of others, it’s actually in our own best interests.


It’s All About The Words You Use

Mechanical engineers speak a language that urban planners don’t understand, and biologists use language that’s probably meaningless to atmospheric scientists. Experts and most people in specialized fields develop their own unique verbal and written shorthand and use acronyms that are meaningless to the rest of us mere mortals. It’s very useful and professionally appropriate when they’re talking to each other, but really harmful when they’re trying to communicate and connect with us civilians. To regular people, your “shorthand” sounds like you’re intentionally talking down to them – again, it just feels arrogant to most people. And if you’re talking to people who are already skeptical or concerned with what you’re proposing, your unintelligible language just reinforces why they don’t trust you.


Effective Public Participation, Managing Opposition and (Re)Building Public Trust Training

We’ve added a few more classes in 2019. We’ll help you succeed and build working, effective, more trusting partnerships with the public and your other stakeholders. The Participation Company (TPC) facilitates, consults, coaches and trains civil service, NGO and business people about their community conflicts and building effective public engagement programs. We help you make the disgruntled, gruntled. Our job is to help you do yours.

2019 Open IAP2 ‘Public Participation Foundations’ (5-day) classes:

·       Salt Lake City, UT – May 1-3 (Planning)/June 3-4 (Techniques)

·       Denver, CO – July 10-12 (Planning)/August 1-2 (Techniques)

·       Colorado Springs, CO – August 29 – 29 (Planning)/ October 23 – 24 (Techniques)

·       Santa Ana, CA – September 24-26 (Planning)/November 20-21 (Techniques)

·       Kansas City, MO – October 7-11

·       Pittsburgh, PA – October 14-18

·       Phoenix, AZ – October 21-25

·       West Palm Beach, FL – December 9-13

·       Charlotte, NC – January 13-17, 2020

2019 Open IAP2 ‘Strategies for Opposition and Outrage in Public Participation’(2-day) classes:

·       Chicago, IL – July 25-26

·       St. Paul, MN – October 7-8

·       Phoenix, AZ – November 18-19

2019 Open TPC ‘Public Facilitation Essentials’ (3-day) class:

·       Denver, CO – November 12-14

IAP2 courses from The Participation Company are eligible for Certification Maintenance (CM) credits through The American Planning Association (APA)’s professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).