General How to Overcome Opposition and Face Backlash

How to Overcome Opposition and Face Backlash

Tanja Polonyi
I can't imagine my daily life without my bike (and coffee)! But cycling often means fighting over space on the road with car drivers.  That's why I want cyclists and pedestrians to get the space they deserve. Give me green spaces, walkable streets, and fresh air!

Convincing the “other side” of your idea can be exhausting and frustrating. And if you finally persuade the opposition and continue with implementation, there are still going to be people criticising your idea. How to deal with that? 

Have you heard the expression haters always gonna hate? Whilst that might be true in some cases, a backlash is not always unfounded, and opposition leaders may have justified reasons to disagree with you.  

Overcoming opposition and facing backlash without endangering your project can be difficult – but not impossible! We put together a list of tips and soft skills needed for your next disagreement.

1. Prepare!

Whatever your idea or project is about, there is definitely going to be a group of people opposed to it. To avoid facing criticism unprepared, identify possible counter-arguments beforehand – always be ready to prove your critics wrong!

Receiving backlash and facing opposition might make you doubt your idea. But don’t worry – media and political atmosphere make it hard for the silent majority to be heard. Identify the hidden audience that is on your side. Your job is to listen to those not shouting – involve them in your project, make them your allies. With their support, you have a better foundation to face opposition. 

2. Listen!

Convinced that your idea is going to drive change in your city? Perfect – but within the group of those opposing, there’s probably some that have legitimate concerns about your project. To prevent a full-on backlash, listen to those concerns carefully and engage in the debate with simple and evidence-based responses. Sometimes, you will need to read between the lines to find out what people’s concerns really are on an individual level.

Moreover, find compassion for your critics. In a Forbes article about social media backlash, the phenomenon perceptual filter is mentioned, describing that every person sees the world through a different lens, all based on our past experiences and our upbringing. Built on this background, we draw our conclusions and opinions about the world. As a result, many times, criticism is not actually about your idea – it’s all about the person criticising. 

Even if it’s difficult, you have to face backlash and opposition with objectivity and the willingness to listen and adapt your idea if the criticism is valid. Appreciate valid concerns and be grateful that someone shared their opinion – it can improve your project!

3. Communicate!

Communication is key! It’s a sentence you’ll find in a lot of our articles on CityChangers.org and an insight that most of those we interview share with us. It has never been more valid than when facing opposition and convincing critics. To convince others of your project, you need to adapt the message to your target audience. Whilst politicians might react more positive to stats and data about the economic profit, your neighbours and those affected by your project might need different convincing means. For more on this, check out our articles on how to convince politicians and how to frame cycling campaigns

Another thing worth focusing on is your language. Especially when facing backlash, the way you speak affects people. Don’t use complicated and stiff language. People with legitimate criticism don’t want a robotic response, they want an apology if necessary; they want a human reply. Tell them your story, acknowledge their concerns, admit the flaws in your idea and offer serious exchange and possible solutions. Most importantly, meet your critiques eye-to-eye and have your discussion in a respectful tone. 

To avoid further backlash and to not give your opposition any chance to throw you under the bus, work transparently. Communicate your ideas and your implementation plans in the most transparent way possible. 

4. Evaluate!

Monitor other people’s opinions on your idea throughout the whole planning and implementation process. Doing so right from the start can prevent backlash. Ask yourself if the criticism can be a lesson and how this critic’s experiences can teach you something.

Simon Munk from the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) told us in one of our interviews that the first few months after a project implementation can be chaotic and confusing, but the pain is worth the wait. Play the long game, and don’t let the opposition stop you. Remember not to validate your idea’s worth on external validation only – you can’t make everyone happy. 

It can help to reframe your first thoughts from feedback. Criticism doesn’t mean that your project is not good enough; it’s an opportunity to check in on your idea again and improve it.

How to In a Nutshell…

Know that there is a hidden audience open for your ideas but hidden behind the noise of your opposition. Focus on them – with their support, overcoming opposition is much easier!

When you are committed to driving change in your city, be aware that criticism and possible backlash is nearly unavoidable. Prepare for these scenarios and be ready to adapt your project – accept other people’s perspectives as valid and give them room for an open dialogue. Don’t hesitate to start the conversation you’d much rather avoid! Your idea can only profit from different perspectives.

Check out our article to find out how London’s cycling initiatives overcame opposition.

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