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5) Negotiating with Decision Makers

Once you are granted a meeting, you will enter into negotiations with the decision makers. Negotiation is when two or more parties find common ground on issues and each gives something up in the process. Your goal is to minimize what you “give away” without risking the lives of any animals.

Before the Meeting…

  • Summarize the Facts - Do not go into the meeting with hundreds of pages of information. Rather, bring a one page summary of current information. You may also bring a limited amount of organized, factual information that the official can read after your meeting. This could include letters which are pertinent, Alley Cat Allies materials, photos, or statistics.
  • Appearance Matters - You may think your “Cats are Cool” sweatshirt is really cool, but if you wear it, you will not be taken seriously. Dress professionally.

  • Know What You Want - Are you asking for a moratorium on trapping cats in a park? Are you seeking to start a pilot program in the city? Money for a spay and neuter clinic? Be specific about what you want and have a written plan for how you will implement your proposal.

    Knowing what you want will help you stay within your set boundaries when you are in the heat of the moment.
  • Choose Representatives - Choose two well-spoken, credible people from your group to attend the meeting. One will take primary responsibility for speaking and one will take detailed notes. Do not send someone who will become overly emotional (for example if a caregiver recently had many of the feral cats in her colony killed, she should not attend the meeting). If you will be meeting with several people it is appropriate to send more than two people. Each person should have a designated role. (One person will give an overview of the program, another will share recent statistics, etc).

During the Meeting…

  • Do Not Demonize the Other Side - She is not evil. She is probably not an “animal hater.” She may be ignorant about the facts, but that doesn’t make her a bad person.

  • Listen! Listen! Listen! - The decision maker may have some legitimate concerns or may agree with you on many points. Listen carefully to what she has to say.

    Listen for key words or phrases which can help clue you into underlying issues that may be affecting her decision and politely comment on those items. She may be assuming something that is incorrect or may need more information. She may also be subtly telling you how the issue surfaced in the first place. Focus on resolving the root issue. For example, she may be sharing that the cats are the issue, but instead she is describing a situation that is really a disagreement between neighbors, and the cats are being used as the scapegoat. Gain further credibility by politely pointing out the root issue and working with the decision maker to solve it.

  • Ask For What You Want - This may seem obvious, but we can sometimes be so afraid of rejection that we offer a watered-down version of what we really want. Unfortunately, this does not leave any room for compromise. After being presented with the facts and asking for what you want, they may be so impressed that they immediately accept your proposal. You won’t know until you ask. Telling them what you want from the outset sets the stage for the negotiating process.

  • Point Out Common Goals - Use phrases such as “We share your goal to…” or “We agree that…” Common goals could include reduced calls about cats being in areas they are not wanted or increased adoption rates.

  • Explain the Program’s Benefits in Terms that are Important to Them - Your main (or only) goal may be to save animals’ lives. To them, the most important issue may be money. If it is an election year, they may be concerned about their image. If you are working with the public health department, their focus may be rabies and other diseases. Point out the facts that matter to them: this program is less expensive in the long run; this program will generate positive media coverage; this program improves the health of cats and all of them will be vaccinated).

  • Be Prepared to Compromise - Remember negotiation involves giving something up! Your proposal may be for a city-subsidized Trap-Neuter-Return program. The official may like the idea, but she tells you that their contract with animal control does not leave money in the budget to fund your proposal. One response would be to tell her that your group will perform the service and pay the spay and neuter bills for the first fiscal year. At the end of the year, armed with statistics on reduced kittens, community support, and limited reallocation of funds required, go back to your contact person and renegotiate your plan. Another response could be that you make suggestions on where they might find the funding.

  • Do Not Get Emotional - You may feel angry, sad, or frustrated, but be careful about expressing those emotions because you may destroy your credibility. Be equally as careful about expressing extreme joy. (“I am so happy, I thought you would never accept this proposal!”) Remain even- tempered and calm. Ask for a break or a drink of water if you need to.

  • Be Realistic - Don’t agree to something you cannot do. If you are asked to provide a 24-hour response team to all incoming cat calls and you know this isn’t necessary or possible, don’t agree. You may be asked to do something as part of a compromise. (“We will pay for all spay and neuter services, if your organization will agree to provide a 24-hour response team.”) In this case, it is acceptable to ask for time to talk to reach a decision with the rest of the group.

    If your city budgets for animal control and they are asking you to do part of their job, it is reasonable for your group to receive funding for your work. Always remember that the goal of your program should not be to replace animal control, but to work with them and help them help protect your community’s animals. It’s more important to have a quality project than a lot of mediocre projects. You can always agree to do more at a later time or to grow the program once results and involvement is clear.

  • Don’t Fall for Diversionary Tactics - The official may offer to “study” the proposal or say she needs more information. She may set you up for failure by agreeing to your proposal if you agree to a set of impossible guidelines. The meeting could turn into a long discussion about peripheral issues. Do not let this happen. Redirect the conversation and stay focused on what you want and what you need to do to get it.

  • Use Sound Bites - Repeat brief, memorable statements in response to questions and at other times as appropriate. Learn more about campaigns sound bites in the Campaign Planning section. Also, our media section suggests some key talking points.

  • Be Prepared to Address Tough Questions - It is not important, or even possible, to have answers to every question. It is ok to say that you do not know the answer to a question, but that you will find out and get back to them with more information. Do not pretend to know the answer to a question when you don’t. Do not respond to every part of every question. Stick to the most important parts.

  • Remain Optimistic - Focus on what you want to happen. Use positive words such as “clearly,” “obviously,” and “evidently.” Continue to sound credible by using phrases like “according to…” and “the fact is…”

  • Get it in Writing - If an agreement is reached on implementing your proposal, or any part of it, get it in writing. If you agree to continue the conversation at another time, get it in writing. If the official tells you that she is not the right person to make this decision, get it in writing. If it is important, get it in writing. Email is a great option for this and is an easy way to have important information in writing.

  • Ask for another Meeting - This is particularly important if no agreement is reached or there are still major areas of contention. Even if all of the details are resolved in your favor, it is important to continue the relationship.

After the meeting…

  • Continue Contact - Whether or not another meeting is scheduled, it is important to continue communicating with your contact person. The first and most important task you have is to send a thank you note. Also, send a thank you note to anyone who may have been particularly helpful in setting up the meeting (i.e., an assistant).
    The decision maker is probably very busy and may be annoyed by frequent contact. If you agreed upon a plan, you may want to send written monthly or bimonthly updates or reports via regular mail or email, followed by occasional phone calls.

  • Publicize Your Outcome - Consider sending a press release, a letter to the editor, or other publicity of your agreement. This can be framed as a thank you to the public official or as a victory announcement. It may also be an announcement that negotiations were successful. Either way, it can serve to bring attention to the issue, mobilize new supporters, and energize current group members. It is also a great way to hold the decision maker accountable for the decisions he or she makes and the negotiation she had with you.

Next step: Designing and timing campaign tactics.

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