Have you ever found yourself on the uncool side of a debate? We're not talking about mixing plaids and stripes. Say your association is a conscientious promoter of free speech, and certain unpopular protesters exercise that right. You're at a networking event and someone says every single insulting protester should be arrested for the things they say out loud and on their signs. You feel uncomfortable knowing that no matter how unpopular those protesters may be, they're exercising their right to free speech, something both you and your members defend regularly and passionately.
That's a pretty extreme example, but it does happen. It's hard to be the calm, dissenting opinion when there's some kind of popular outrage. It's hard to say, "innocent until proven guilty!" when many of your peers have already decided. It's hard to take the side of a doctor who misdiagnosed a patient, a team of workers who used less than optimal building materials, or a lawyer who successfully defended a person whom was already condemned by popular opinion. I'd venture to say everyone at some point has had a quiet, challenged opinion that was very unpopular and against the grain.
So what do you do when that's your and your association's beliefs? Well, you have a two options: shut up or say something.
1) Miss Manners would probably suggest you keep quiet if you can. Perhaps politely remove yourself from the conversation lest you are asked point blank your opinion, or you're asked to speak for your members. If it's a particularly touchy subject (politics, religion, etc) you can probably get away with changing the topic without too much disruption to the conversation. Even a lighthearted, "Well this is getting serious for a lunch meeting!" can brighten up the mood and easily direct the conversation to something else.
2) Keeping quiet isn't an option for some people, so if you feel the need to answer, go the education route. Don't start with, "Well Actually..." instead say, "Did you know?" Be sensitive to those who may not change their opinion. You can't change every mind.
DO NOT engage in an argument. Debates are okay as long as everyone keeps cool and brings up points that aren't too personal, but there's often a fine line, especially with strangers. Be aware of when tempers flare.
DO NOT roll over or agree with something just to keep the peace. Remember that you are a leader and you're trusted to uphold the mission of your association. Hold true to that. If you find a challenger to your opinion is not backing down, cheerfully suggest that you agree to disagree, and acknowledge that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go 'round and keep the politicians at work.
Nobody ever said networking was easy, and this is just one of the challenges association leaders face on a daily basis. Need a little extra help navigating the networking world? Click below to download our free guide!