Better Together - conversations

Better TogetherTo increase understanding of the many ways refugees now and before, renew Canada’s economy, culture and society and how our communities are better together, we need to have more effective conversations and engage the people who need to hear these stories.

Who needs to hear what we have to share?

Generally, we are aiming our efforts at the middle 40% of Canadians (‘persuadables’) who are more sympathetic to welcoming refugees based on humanitarian arguments, but who need to be convinced of the economic and other benefits of doing so. These audiences include: members of faith communities, business community leaders, and municipal community leaders.

What should we be telling them?

We need to underscore our positive, shared values:

  • People who have come as refugees, through their presence, renew and benefit communities across Canada, economically, socially and culturally.
  • Communities across Canada work with and are energized by newcomers who arrived in Canada as refugees. When we work together to build our communities, we are creating a better future for all of us.
  • We are building community together
  • We are improving opportunities for us all, including the most vulnerable.
  • We are upholding human rights
  • We are acting for humanitarian reasons

Strategies to stay focused on the values-based messaging:

We should:

  • Talk about community-based impacts, not just individual successes.
  • We need to keep solutions front and centre, rather than focusing on the problems alone.
  • Must emphasize refugee-led efforts: there are many stories and ways to lead with this
  • Lead with shared values of community, togetherness, building towards a future
  • Acknowledge that people move and people who seek refuge in Canada are moving for the same reasons and values any of one moves: to build and find better lives. 

And also:

Connect through storytelling showing the faces and impacts in the community. Share how ordinary stories bring extraordinary benefits to us all. This can be done through the series of portraits. 


  • A local school remains open become new families are welcomed to the community
  • Former refugees are taking care of the most vulnerable in our community, including the very young (daycare and early childhood educators) and the elderly (caregivers)
  • Traditional businesses remain open:

Story 1

Story 2

  • New businesses bring new opportunities – employment, revenues – to the community

Story 1: Antigonish, Nova Scotia

Story 2: Windsor, Ontario in contrast to Detroit, Michigan

How should we be speaking with these 'persuadable' audiences?

Lead with positive, shared values. Here are a few easy phrases that show what “leading with values” means. Can you think of ways these phrases can be connected back to personal stories of either local communities working together to help newcomer refugee families settle, or when discussing stories about refugees who are artists, entrepreneurs or teachers?

Connecting and linking stories with these phrases is also another way of popularizing and making use of these value-based messages.

When leading with values about our connectedness and underscoring that: We are all connected; our futures are connected and that we’re stronger when we work together.

“Now, more than ever, we know that our lives are all connected, which means that the only way forward is to value each other’s contributions and to work together.”

“Our communities thrive when we work together to face the future.”

“In this interconnected world, we really are stronger when we work together. When we do, it’s beautiful.”

“In this moment in our lives, I think most of us recognize that our world is so interconnected. Our actions have consequences beyond ourselves. Our fates are linked. That’s why our community / our group is working together.”

“When we work as a community to solve problems, we all move forward.”

“Because we’re all connected, bad policies hurt all of us – threatening what we value: standing together  values and disrupting our communities.”

“This is really about community values: We’re all in this together, and we need to look out for each other.”

“Look, in this group / in our community, we’re all on the same team. We know that Canada thrives when we draw on our common values to solve problems and that is the only way in today’s interconnected world.”

When sharing stories to underscore that we’re protecting human rights:

“We know that moving your family to make a better life is one of the hardest things a person can do. Sometimes even moving across town is hard enough! Just imagine what it must be like if we are forced to move, to save our lives.”

“If we arrived as immigrants here or our families did, then we all know how hard it is to pick-up and move. Moving is a difficult choice to make. That’s why I / we in this community / group / want to welcome people who are seeking refuge here.”

“Today, as always, people move to make life better for themselves and their families. No matter our differences, most of us want pretty similar things.”

“When we look at the history of those who found refuge here,  regardless of how they arrived, refugee newcomers have always renewed, enriched and contributed so much to communities already here.”

Where to start:

Step 1: Listen better

R – Receive (pay attention to the person, actively listen, lean in)

A – Appreciate (‘hmm…’, ‘oh’, ‘okay’)

S – Summarize (So…’)

A – Ask (ask questions afterwards)

Step 2: Stay at ease, curious, inviting and keep the conversation flowing:

  • Tell me more about…(If your curiosity is piqued)
  • This is what I heard you say… is it what you meant? (If your instinct is to counter another’s statement)
  • What led you to this point of view? (If you are with someone who begins advocating for a fixed position)
  • What is most important you in a leader? (If you are with someone who begins championing or criticizing a leader who has taken a position on this issue)
  • I notice your passion on this issue; what makes this so important for you? (If someone begins lecturing and intellectualizing)
  • What if the opposite were true? (If you are with someone who always agrees with you)
  • Can you say that in another way? (If you suspect you don’t understand)
  • I’d like to offer another point of view… (If you hold a different opinion)
  • I’m wondering if you have some thoughts or feelings about what you’ve been hearing… (If someone has been silent)
  • If what you are proposing came to pass, how would things be different? (If someone’s ideas are very abstract)

Building Value-Based Messages

Building Blocks



Lead with values and vision. Starting with shared values helps audiences to “hear” our messages more effectively than do dry facts or emotional rhetoric.

Research and experience show that shaping messages around core shared values can help people better hear new, unfamiliar, or even uncomfortable arguments. 

Think through your own values, and the values you share with your target audience of Persuadables.

If we present only a series of facts and rhetoric that conflict (or appear to conflict) with an audience’s core values, they will often disregard those facts completely.

Opportunity for Everyone



Integrity and Transparency / Fairness

Basic human rights

We are all connected

Frame problems as a threat to our shared vision and values.


This is the place to pull out stories and statistics that are likely to resonate with the target audience.



Reactionary policies that force them into the shadows haven’t worked, and are not consistent with our values. Those policies hurt us all by encouraging exploitation by unscrupulous employers and landlords.

ex: Flawed refugee policies are threats to opportunity, equality, and community.

Choose facts carefully. We all have a lot of evidence to support our claims. However, facts do not tend to change minds if the facts are not couched in values.

After priming audiences with values, present one or two pieces of evidence that make your case. Break facts and statistics down to manageable pieces of information, into stories that people can digest.


Avoid issue fatigue – offer a positive solution


What can your audience concretely do? The more specific, the better.

Adapted for Canadian context from the Opportunity Agenda: Building Value-Based Messaging. Available at:

Words that Work

What type of words and phrasing work when trying to change deeply held perceptions and beliefs about people who are seeking refuge? What words are persuasive? Based on research on ground-breaking research to find the words that work and that change the debate around people seeking refuge, these are words that help target persuadable audiences.

Move Towards

Shift from


Live in peace, care or children, live free from danger, safety

Security, survival

Portrays people who seek refuge as people with dignity and agency

Seeking safety, rebuilding lives where it’s safe, looking to set up a safe home

Fleeing persecution, violence and torture

Explaining positive motivations rather than the push factors increase understanding

Flourish, prosper, thrive


While in many cases, it is true that people seeking refuge are in situations of war and violence, and may be the argument used at refugee hearings, research shows that public opinion tends towards more hopeful language.

It is legal to seek asylum; when people cross borders their human rights come with them

It is not illegal to seek asylum; not a security issue; myth busting in general

Negating a frame brings the frame you want to avoid to top of mind. Best to say what we are for.

As caring people; join together across all of our differences, we [insert an advocacy point or demand]

As Canadians...

You might need to adapt this to your audience. However, be mindful that evoking national identity as an argument is also known to provoke “us/them” narratives that might make people less receptive to refugee rights. Collaborative calls to action motivates our current supporters / base and persuades the middle.

People move

Nation of Immigrants

Be mindful that phrases like, “Canada is a nation of Immigrants,” also implies volition, which erases indigenous communities, and doesn’t recognize histories of enslaved Africans here in Canada. This isn’t rooted in the lived experience of many audiences.

People seeking asylum. People seeking refuge.


This is difficult because in communications, we are trying to be brief. However, just be mindful that mass nouns evoke stereotyping effects and eclipse the individuals and their stories.


Helping audiences focus in on real people, not imagine an undifferentiated mass of moving bodies.

Adapted from Anat Shenker-Osorio and ASO Communications.

Phrases and tips to pivot messages to what you want to say

Pivoting is a technique that can be used to move from negativity or distraction back to our positive message, to taking back the power. This requires message discipline. Depending on the context, your job is not to educate. Your job is to use their question as an opportunity to deliver your strongest message as effectively as possible.

Example: Isn’t refugee intake a major drain on our economy? How can we really afford it?

Three parts to a pivot:

  • Connect to the value(s) in question

Example: “I’m glad you asked about public finance, We all want to make sure our country is prosperous.’

  • Contrast and reframe the idea.

Example: 'I’m sure you’d agree that we need to look at the value of investing in refugees with both the short and long term lens. The short term costs of resettling refugees is made up for in spades by long term outcomes… (insert facts and figures and supporting arguments) …’

  • Deliver your message. What you want to talk about?

Example: “Data clearly shows that refugees over the long term give back in so many economic and other ways…”

Phrases to use to help bridge or pivot to what you want to say:


“That’s a good question. (pause) Here’s how I think about this issue…”

“The real question is…”

“The important thing to remember is...”

“What we are really talking about here is...”

“What matters most is...”

“To put this in broader perspective...”

“I would like to emphasize that...”

“Let’s not lose sight of the core problem...”

“At the heart of the matter is...”

“Taking a closer look what we see is....”

Tips for handling difficult questions:

  • Look for what you and questioner have in common: Reality, experience, perspective, beliefs.
  • Stay respectful.
  • Take a stand and explain patiently why you hold these views.
  • Move from problem to solutions. Connect your proposition to the person, to vision and values.
  • It’s alright if you don’t know the answer.
  • What you can say to bring up these messages and to keep your message on track (pivoting)

‘We want to highlight the energy, ideas and skills of refugees and community members when they come together and contribute to our common success.’

‘Not enough attention has been paid to the positive contributions of refugees over the long-term.’

‘We want to ________. That is why we are here today.’

‘It’s important to talk about what we are doing well in ________ (name of town, city) too. For example, ________.’

What you can say if someone asks you about something outside of our messages (for example: recent political changes, current events, myths and misconceptions about refugees, etc.):

Politely decline to engage the person on the point. Try to avoid using the negative words or ideas brought up by the person you are speaking with, and re-state as soon as possible our positive messages.

‘We’re not talking about _________. We’re talking about how our communities are stronger when we welcome and protect refugees and newcomers, and when we make the best use of use everyone’s skills and ideas for our common good. We are all better off when we understand the challenges that one another faces and how we can work together to overcome them. One example: _______________.’

‘When resettled refugees and refugee claimants have the chance to get involved, take up leadership opportunities and to show what they can contribute, people realize that welcoming refugees and newcomers can be extremely positive for the community. We all win. One example: ___________________.’

  • Focus on what we want to say (alongside ‘We are better together economically, socially and culturally’) rather than what others are saying.

Keep solutions as the main focus, rather than problems.

Highlight the long-term benefits of welcoming refugees (through fact-based research and through stories) in contrast to the short-term costs. 

Tell relatable, human stories. Stories of individuals or a group of identifiable individuals are easier to empathize with than statistics or stories about large groups of people.

Show how group efforts have an impact at the community level. (Sponsorship groups, Syrian women creating a pop-up kitchen)


  • Put forward shared values and positive messages, don’t ‘bust myths’: Research shows that ‘busting myths’ may serve to legitimize the point we are debunking. Myth-busting is also only effective to people who are already convinced. We need to respond to concerns by offering solutions in a positive and values-based way.
  • Don’t focus on those who can’t be persuaded: Once you’ve established you are speaking with someone who’s opposing, negative views of refugee contributions are entrenched, move on. We cannot hope to change everyone’s mind.
  • Keep your message simple and short. Use language that everyone will understand (nothing technical, unless it is critical to what you are saying).
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Share (short) stories and examples that others can relate to (at a common place in your community – like a school, a well-known business or niche a business is filling, a park, place of worship, for example).
  • Appeal to emotions. Emotions help people remember your message much more than logic and statistics! Sharing a joke or a laugh is helpful too.
  • Be brief. Don’t describe all of the small details.
  • If someone asks you a question or about details you don’t want to talk about, direct your answers to something you want to say (see phrases above).
  • Invite people to act: people will remember your message if they can do something. How can they find out more? How can they get involved in the community efforts you’re talking about?
  • Practice what you want to say in advance. Figure out how to tell stories effectively and in a few words. Have a friend ask you questions (even tough ones!)

What to avoid:

  • The opposition’s language (bogus refugees, queue-jumpers, etc.) Don’t use these words: Repetition is powerful. We want people repeating our messages, not someone else’s.
  • Naming opponents to our views (like the names of neo-Nazi groups, immigration policy critics, etc.). Don’t use their names: We want people to remember the faces and stories behind refugee contributions and community collaborations: we are better together.

Concerns we hear from people possible refugee champions and how to bring them around

Refugee families aren’t succeeding as we would have hoped.

Response: Often we need to look to the long-term successes:

Include local examples here!

  • Refugee families are moving to urban areas, rather than staying here.

Response: Small communities are vital to helping refugee families springboard into a new life in Canada. Your efforts make a difference.

Include local examples here or refugees who have moved elsewhere and who have returned to thank first sponsors (eg. )

  • We have limited housing options in our community already. We can’t house refugee families too.


Include local examples here!

  • Recent reports of crime by refugees are sparking concerns over security in the community.

Response: Point to statistics showing that crimes by refugees and newcomers are very rare, and even lower that other population groups (see: and other resources at

In times of tragedy, there is strength in community. Use any opportunities to start conversations and learn about our neighbours, rather than resorting to stigmas.

Speak about refugees around you, what they are like and the contributions they are making. Encourage notable community members to do the same. Isolated incidents should not overshadow the hard work and progress in creating better and stronger communities together.

You might also speak about how future generations of refugee families are giving back in ways that strengthen our communities. Among them we find police chiefs, thousands of medical personnel, care providers, and others playing critical community roles, as visible leaders, lesser known Canadian icons and unsung, everyday heroes. Include local examples here!

  • Others in our community need our help. We can’t help everyone.


Refugees are giving back, whether it’s in making donations after disasters (money, blood banks, hair extensions) or in boosting local economies, starting businesses (examples: ), creating jobs. Include your local examples here!