7 Options for Dealing with Sustainability Naysayers

By: Alexandra Kueller

Imagine this: you want to start working on a new sustainability project for your company, but in order to get approval, you need to first convince your boss, who happens to be a sustainability naysayer. How many times has this happened to you? Once? Twice? More than you can count?

As much as we sustainability professionals like to think that everybody will hop on board with sustainability, we know that is not always the case. When dealing with sustainability opposition, the best strategy is probably not saying “listen to me because I know I’m right,” but to instead learn how to properly handle the situation. 

Entrepreneur wrote an article talking about how to deal with a demanding, difficult customer, and we thought those seven strategies applied nicely to dealing with sustainability naysayers:

1. Listen patiently.

When talking with someone who might not be 100% on board with sustainability, let them explain why. Maybe there is a specific reason they’re not jumping for joy when it comes to sustainability, and if you hear them out, it creates a better chance of working through the problem.

2. Show empathy.

As you’re listening patiently, be sure to show empathy. Perhaps this sustainability naysayer has had a bad experience with a sustainability project, and that is what’s holding them back. Be attentive and empathetic; make it clear that you care about their concerns. Try to understand where their sustainability difficulties are coming from.

3. Lower the voice and slow down speech.

It happens all the time: when talking about something you love and care about with someone who does not see eye to eye, you can start to talk fast and your voice slowly creeps higher. If you’re trying to talk about a potential sustainability project with someone who just doesn't understand, remember to slow down and lower your voice. When you talk in a fast, hurried manner, you seem frantic and out of control, so now is your chance to demonstrate that you are in control of the situation and there is nothing to fear.

4. Imagine an audience.

If you find yourself getting frustrated when talking to a sustainability naysayer, imagine that you are talking to an audience. Picture that the room is filled with your sustainability team as your trying to pitch a potential project. How would you feel if your coworkers saw you get angry with someone because they didn't have the same view on sustainability as you? This tactic can help create a buffer to allow you to clear your mind.

5. Be wrong to be right.

Be open to what your opposition is saying. Yes, you might be trying your hardest to convince the sustainability naysayer to be open to a new sustainability project, but hear what they have to say about what is holding them back, and don’t be afraid to agree! If they say they are concerned about how much a potential project could cost, tell them you understand, and this can lead to a more open discussion of how to handle cost.

6. Demonstrate emotional control.

Emotions are contagious, and that’s why it’s important to demonstrate emotional control. If talking with someone who might not see eye to eye on sustainability, it is important to make sure everyone’s emotions stay in line.  It’s hard trying to convince someone that is angry that sustainability is the way to go, so try and be as calm as you can and de-escalate the situation.

7. It's not personal.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that someone who might not be excited about sustainability is not a personal attack on you. Often times, people aren’t 100% on board with sustainability because of other reasons, such as the way a company might be moving in another direction or there might not be enough money to fund all of the sustainability projects. Remember: you are dealing with a business issue, not a personal one.

How do YOU handle sustainability naysayers? Let us know in the comments below or on twitter!