How do you gain the trust of your public (including those who aren’t even affected by your work)?

The Monterey, California Harbormaster seems to know.

In Consent-Building Clinic #71, we got into the nitty-gritty of how you can “Convince Stakeholders Their Input Matters (While Setting Reasonable Expectations),” so we’re following up with another example of how to get your public to believe it when you say “We need your input.”

Even though the local officials in Monterey have more trust than their counterparts in neighboring communities, no one believes it when they solicit input.

Except, for the harbormaster . . . When he asks for input, he gets responses that actually impact his work!

What makes him so convincing?

He demonstrates that he means it when it asks for input.  Not that he always uses or follows the input, but he makes it apparent he really is listening to the responses he gets.

Does he use fancy software or surveying devices?  Nope.

Does he talk or write about how he’s “customer-oriented and responsive?”  Heck no!

His tactic is so subtle, his audience probably doesn’t even realize he’s using it.


See for yourself if you can detect the tactic.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent newsletter he emailed residents and boat owners in which he discussed the budget he intended to present to City Council for the upcoming year.

The harbormaster explained the projected shortfall he expected if he didn’t increase user fees, and what increases he concluded were necessary.

Then he requested the public’s input . . . Particularly from those who would be paying the higher fees.


A month later, the harbormaster emailed an update along the following lines:

  • “A number of you have talked to me about the changes in fee structure that I had in mind; thanks for the various suggestions and ideas.”
  • “Based on what I learned from talking with some of you, I’ve concluded that I was wrong about a couple of the changes I was contemplating . . . Here is my altered budget and fee-structure proposal. I think it IS an improvement from what I had in mind.”
  • “I am intending to present this altered budget to City Council . . . unless some you have further suggestions.”


Did you catch it?

He meant what he said!

He demonstrated he meant it by showing how the input caused him to reconsider (and in this case, revise) what he would propose to City Council.

Even though I (Hans) would be affected by the increased fees, I hadn’t been more than a armchair observer of the input the harbormaster was soliciting.

Yet his handling of it affected my attitude and trust of him, even though I wasn’t directly involved.

You can be sure I wasn’t the only one that concluded “this guy means it when he says he wants the public’s input!”

Putting the Harbormaster’s Tactic to Work for You

You need to apply this tactic to convince your public your listening.

If you swipe the harbormaster’s three simple steps, even those unaffected will be convinced you actually mean it when you elicit input:

  1. Genuinely listen
  2. Evaluate what you hear
  3. Explain HOW and WHY you will/not use the input you receive


Notice, there’s no chest-beating declaration about truly listening.  There’s simply a demonstration of it.

Put these three steps to work for you and skip the usual cynicism-inducing rhetoric and simply demonstrate you need the public’ input.