Four ways to break up a coalition

If you’re in the business of building formal or informal coalitions to get things done, you know that you are going to run into people who are working just as hard to undo your good work.  As I’m currently working on a legislative initiative, I’m seeing that dynamic in action.  Here are just a few of the many potential ways that opponents try to peel away supporters (be on guard):

  1. Allege that the proposed action is insensitive at best, unethical at worst, while attacking the motivation of the proponents. Few people want to be evil, and this will cause supporters to at least temporarily question their involvement. Response: Make sure coalition front organizations are recognized positive advocates for change and that communication facts and analysis as to who is affected and how are bulletproof.
  2. Claim that the effort, while perhaps not unethical, is certainly illegal or unconstitutional, especially for obscure or highly technical reasons.  Leave a whiff of litigation threat in the air. People are so skittish about getting sucked into the American legal system that some will start to flee.  Response: Come prepared with legal precedents and analysis that the proposed change has/can withstand legal challenge.
  3. Suggest that the proposed initiative is unneeded because existing entities or organizations can make the changes under their current framework or rules/statutes.  Standing pat is a comforting position for many folks and will sap their drive, ignoring the fact that change wouldn’t be in the air if those groups had done something already.  Response:  Prepare timeline of worsening conditions and/or failed opportunities to previously address needed change.
  4. Agree that change is needed and then propose a complex administrative or funding scheme for making the change happen. The more intricate the problem-solving approach – often offered under the guise of “if we’re going to fix it, let’s get it right the first time” – almost always guarantees failure.  It ensures that the effort will likely collapse under its own weight and inertia. Or it creates a situation in which there are so many things, each hated by one person or group, that the coalition driving for change falls apart.  Response:  Stay focused on solving only the precipitating need and, to use the cliché, harvesting the low-hanging fruit first.  Further change can be pursued when successes have been established and everyone wants to be on the winning side.
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