I am never surprised by the willingness of firefighters to fight for what is right. I have officers that work with me as well as friends throughout emergency services who seem like they are perpetually locked in battle with someone over something, and having been one of those people myself for a number of years, I know how exhausting and frustrating that mode of operation can be.
I was reminded of this recently in two cases; one in which an officer was trying to right a wrong for someone who wasn't even assigned to him, and to another who was constantly frustrated by others who wouldn't jump in and take up a perfectly valid cause. In both cases, these people had every right to be upset- their points were perfectly logical and they were angry because of the injustice that was being perpetuated. However, my advice to them was to do something that seems like it is counter-intuitive to most of you out there (given the number of angry responses I see to some e-mails, blogs, posts, etc.) Again, Master Sun, in The Art of War, from Terrain:
Sizing up opponents to determine victory, assessing dangers and distances, is the proper course of action for military leaders.
My advice: First, you never want to engage in a siege mentality with someone who has already made up their mind what they believe. I don't care how right you are and how wrong they are, when someone is locked in on an idea, attacking them head-on is just another version of the irresistible force vs. the immovable object. You are destined for a long, protracted battle with no clear end in sight and in the case of trying to sway opinion, nothing is going to come from this but hurt feelings and a lot of anger.
A quick solution: Find out where they stand and which way the wind is blowing BEFORE engaging them in a heated discussion. Develop your points and reinforce them with irrefutable logic. Enlist allies and discuss your strategies for making this change. And then, when the timing is right, introduce your well-thought-out argument without being emotional or threatening. Allow the other party to come to their own conclusions and they will often come willingly.
Two quick observations though; when you are developing your case, you may find that maybe YOU were wrong and THEY were right. Or you may find that you both are wrong or you both are right (it happens more often than you would believe). In which case, presenting to these other people your findings (and if you are wrong, admitting it), is bound to give the other party the opportunity to save face and will buy you some chips you can cash later.
Then the other issue- some people, no matter what, can not be swayed by logic. They are so emotionally tied to a belief that no matter what you present, they are entirely convinced you are wrong and they are right. You see this often in political and religious discussions in which one or both parties are absolutely unwilling to see another's point of view. If you find this to be the case, even Sun Tzu advises, "besieging a walled city is to be the tactic of last resort".
In the earlier discussion we had on opportunity, we covered some issues of timing. No matter how right your belief, if the timing isn't right, you won't be able to convince anyone of its merit. What it really comes down to is that if you want to be successful, you need to enlist some help, make sure you have ALL of the facts, and make sure you now when to move forward. No leader in their right mind would attack an opponent without the right number of resources, the right reconnaissance, and the right timing, and neither should you.