The Persuasiveness of “Taking The High Road” – The UVA/Rolling Stone Example

Taking the high road is the subject of my most recent Big Think blog, as you can read here. But how do we take the high road when under pressure?  In the midst of anger, frustration or other negative emotions, how is it that some people are able to “raise all boats” with their responses?

First, taking the high road is a persuasion tactic. It is among those that involve responding rather than reacting.  As has been discussed at some length in blogs on this site and in my books on politics, we all participate in repetitive episodes each day.  We learn how to talk with various people in certain ways.  Over times, some of these ways of interacting become intractable.  We are stuck in them and if they are dysfunctional, then they are “unwanted repetitive episodes” (URPS).

People who take the high road have the capacity to bypass reaction and URPS and instead to thoughtfully respond.  It’s as if a mental red flag stops an unproductive reaction.  Sometimes this occurs with the advice of others as is often the case with CEOs turning to advisors in high profile challenges.  If you know that you’re inclined to make “off-the-cuff” comments, it pays to have people less inclined around to help avoid this route, especially in crisis situations.

Were more of us to develop the capacity to take the high road and employ it, conflicts in our lives might well be substantially reduced.  Since communication is a lot like chess in that every “move” one person makes limits the choices of the other(s), when the high road is taken, and done so with sincerity, it becomes difficult in most cases for the reactions or responses of others to be as negative as they might be otherwise.

Of course, like any persuasive effort the proof of its legitimacy and also effectiveness long term is follow up.  In the example provided in the blog, the president of the University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan, has committed to follow through, to do what is best for students and to contribute to the challenge of on-campus assaults shared with so many universities.

So, taking the high road is not a shallow tactic for her but part of the larger strategy of ending the danger students can face on campuses.  It commits one to then following that road.  Otherwise, the next time this approach is used, credibility will have been lost along with effective influence.

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Can’t Get A Word in Edgewise This Holiday Season?

Social interaction increases at this time of year at work and at holiday activities.  It’s a good time to assess whether people listen to what you have to say.  Or, whether you might be monopolizing conversations.

On Big Think today, I posted a blog about ways to deal with being interrupted, dismissed, and ignored.  Too often we simply give up and go away annoyed or even angry when we’re unable to participate comfortably and effectively in conversations.

That’s a good thing for conversational hoarders to keep in mind.  Talking too much, interrupting others, talking over them or dismissing what they have to say by not responding on topic are offensive types of communication.  There’s enough tension during the holiday season without people feeling that their ideas are not valuable enough to be allowed expression.  They may not say that they’re perturbed by being put in such a position, but relationships, at work as well, suffer when this kind of conversational bullying goes on.  No one wants to feel unimportant or invisible.

If you’re the one who can’t get a word in edgewise, it’s time to make some changes in how you enter conversations and hold the floor.  Don’t wait for someone to do that for you.

Take a few minutes to read the blog.  You’ll find some tips for assuring that what you have to say is not ignored or in some other way demeaned.  I’ve written about how we’re all at least 75% responsible for how people treat us.  So rude as a conversational monopolizer may be, it’s not just his or her responsibility to bring that behavior to an end.  Some people simply don’t notice that they talk over others or say too much instead of asking others their opinions or in some other way inviting them to the conversation.

Try treating social occasions as opportunities to try out new ways to enter and stay in conversations without monopolizing them.  One of the greatest gifts is so often overlooked.  It’s listening.  When you really listen to others, your comments reflect that.  And yet so many people rush into “Oh, that reminds me” and talk about their experiences instead of asking a question about what they just heard or inviting the person who just spoke to elaborate on some aspect of what was said.  This can come across in a very phony way, so be careful.  Ask about what really interests you or don’t ask at all.

Try noticing when people have not been able to enter a conversation.  Ask their opinion on something.  A good host does this.  So does an observant member of a team.  Just make sure it’s a topic about which you know they’ll have something of interest to add.

The most interesting people are not the ones who hoard conversations.  They’re the ones who participate in intriguing ways but also make sure others are involved.  So, if you’re talking too much or talking too little, consider some of the thoughts shared in the blog.  It could make this holiday season much more pleasant.

Posted in Comebacks, Holiday Conflicts, Unwanted Repetitive Episodes | 1 Comment

Managing Emotional Outbursts and Leaks

Have you ever cried at work?  Have you shouted at a boss or co-worker?  Have you lost your cool?  It’s rare to find a person who wouldn’t like a redo on an emotional moment or period in his or her life.  And so, this week on Big Think, I posted a blog that focuses on ways to deal with situations that elicit reactionary emotional responses.

Research has long shown that even when managing emotions to the best of our abilities, facial expressions and body movement/positions send messages about which we’re often unaware.  Gender and culture influence the types of expressions we exhibit readily as research by Paul Ekman and Ross Buck, among others, has demonstrated.

For example, women tend to more readily smile and often do so when the discussion at hand requires a more serious expression in order to convey conviction.

The blog linked here takes a look at some techniques that can prove helpful when attempting to train oneself to emote differently.  This isn’t about changing who you are or even how you think, but rather at least knowing when your spontaneous expressions may be getting in the way of your goals.

Posted in Dust Ups, Emotional Comebacks, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Persuasion: A Healthy Sign in Most Relationships

I’ve always started my classes in persuasion with a discussion about the difference between it and two other forms of influence:  manipulation and coercion.  None of these three forms is completely free of deceit.  In fact, we expect some degree of deception in much of our communication each day.  Being told exactly what someone is thinking about you is not always what any of us wishes to hear.  There are courtesy, societal and cultural considerations and topics that just aren’t discussed.  But, among these three forms of influence, persuasion is the most transparent.  It is something done WITH people, not TO people, as is the case with manipulation and coercion.

So here are a few thoughts on the importance of keeping persuasion in relationships, whether they are workplace or personal ones.  Sure, some people can overdo persuasion, always wanting to debate issues, playing the devil’s advocate, or just going on too long when making a point.  Persuasion is not always pure either.  It can be mixed with the other two forms.  Those situations aside, however, persuasion is a sort of barometer of openness — indicating that the people involved have chosen to hear what the other has to say, discuss, reason and/or debate rather than pull the wool over their eyes or force them to acquiesce in order to achieve their goals.  Here’s more on that

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When Persuasion is Not and Option

On the front page of Huffington Post you’ll find “The Common Ground Fallacy.”   It explores what happens to a government, actually to any organization, when persuasion is no longer an option, when it has to give way to two other forms of influence:  coercion and manipulation.

Persuasion is often wrongly associated with subliminal forms of influence.  Actually, persuasion, unlike other ways of attempting to change the beliefs, attitudes or behaviors of others is something people do WITH rather than TO each other.  As such, it’s a relatively transparent form of influence.  It doesn’t seek to pull the wool over the eyes of others or force them to acquiesce.

So, what happens when a government ceases to allow persuasion to function as a means of mutual influence?  It’s a threat to democracy.  When leaders fall into unwanted repetitive episodes (URPS) as discussed in other blogs here, they put all that came before at risk.  Keeping score becomes paramount.  See what you think.

Posted in Politics, Unwanted Repetitive Episodes | Leave a comment

Political Inquisitiveness — The First Step In Political Clout for Women

Below are some additional thoughts on politics and the importance of girls and women learning what to expect and how to manage politics at work.  The Secret Handshake and It’s All Politics were written to help with this endeavor — for women and men.  Recent research by Catalyst indicates, however, that women are far more likely than men to feel like outsiders in high tech industries.  But these feelings are prevalent in other fields as well.  It’s time to deal with them head on. The first step is becoming politically inquisitive. ( Also see Big Think Blog published today)

A significant portion of benign workplace politics involves interpersonal competence – saying the right thing at the right time.  Less commendable tactics have among them granting favors, rewarding similar others, and providing advantage to those who play along to get along.  At the far end of this continuum are deception and manipulation.

While some forms of politicking are questionable and even despicable, to reject all politics often undermines career progress for women in particular.  Why?  They are usually uncomfortable with politics, seeing it as giving unfair advantage to those who don’t deserve it.  But if you’re working in a political arena, you can’t afford to be politically oblivious.

The first step in the process of upping your game is developing political inquisitiveness – not only about where and with whom you work, but also about the limits of your own political style.  Are you a purist, for example, who believes that good work will be rewarded without the need for politics?  Or are you a street fighter who has learned the ropes and believes that competence is not noticed unless you make it visible, know when and how to stand your ground and sometimes give as good as you get?

Women who move up the ladder in their organizations operate like behavioral anthropologists; they become students of politics.  They observe dysfunctional patterns to which they might be contributing, such as allowing others to talk over them, dismiss their ideas, treat them with contempt or steal their ideas.  They recognize that they’re at least 75% responsible for how others treat them and learn how to alter types of interactions taking them nowhere.  There are a number of blogs on this site about choice points and comebacks that pertain to skill development in this area (See categories in right column of this page).

Aside from observing how the people above them get things done, the politically inquisitive identify colleagues who not only understand political activity in their organization, but who are willing to share that information.  Unfortunately, people who have political knowledge rarely seek out others with whom to share it.  For them, it was hard won.  If you can seek them out, invite them to lunch, win their trust, and make their job easier somehow, they may reciprocate with valuable political information and encouragement.  Yes, this burden should be shared with the organization — one  led by people seeking to manage politics so that talented employees are retained and rewarded.  If that exists in your organization, all the better.  But individual political know-how is important as well.

Political inquisitiveness doesn’t require that you actually like workplace politics.  It doesn’t mean staying in an environment that’s rife with virulent forms.  It does, however, require recognizing that few major developments in any department, company or industry get done without some level of politics.  Wherever there is competition, especially for scarce resources, politics is operative.  It’s better to go in with your eyes open.


Posted in Choice Points, Politics, Tutorials for Women | Leave a comment

Handling Put-Downs at Work

I’ve been traveling the last few weeks, but back to home base.  My latest blog on Big Think takes a look at how to deal with put-downs.  Most of us drive home many days of each year thinking about what could have been said in challenging situations.  I wrote Comebacks at Work, with Chris Noblet, for those of you interested in the longer version of ways to make those days less frequent — how to respond effectively to offense and insult on-the-spot. But for a glimpse of a general approach to such situations, you might check out 

I’m planning to write more on this topic.  Back soon with that.  Also, if you stopped by after reading the Big Think blog, you might check out the “Categories” list in the right column of this page for more comebacks and ways of dealing with confrontation, choice points, dust ups and political games.

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Are You An Unapologetic Feminist? Emma Watson Shows What That Looks Like For Young Women

If you watched actor Emma Watson’s speech to the United Nations last Sunday, you saw a strong, young woman do her part to make “feminism” constructively meaningful again.  In a few minutes, she did what many women and men have feared doing much of their lives.  She referred to herself as a feminist without an ounce of apology in tow.  “I’m not one of those ugly, men-haters” was not added to her revelation.  In fact, she made clear that the word “feminism” has been and is now about equality of women and men.  In her speech, she invited men, particularly young men, as part of the HeForShe campaign to join her as feminists to improve the dire economic and domestic conditions under which so many women live.  As Watson explained, these conditions will not improve around the world until men and women join together to make it happen.

I hope you’ll take a moment to read this blog.  Perhaps feminism is being reinvented and it’s very beautiful in many ways.

Posted in Tutorials for Women | 1 Comment

The Power of Framing

Today on Big Think I wrote about how framing can enhance persuasion — and also romance — as the latter is certainly a form of the former.  Framing in conversation suggests or imposes a type on the interaction.  Is this a game, serious talk, just passing the time, getting to know each other, or any of a host of other possible types of conversation? By knowing the type of conversation, most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the rules — within our primary culture.  In the blog, you’ll find an example of violating the romance frame.  This is how many relationships meet an untimely end.

To the extent that we enter conversations with others without regard for framing, the risk of things going wrong is high.  Take a look at the blog.  See what you think.  Perhaps tomorrow you’ll want to insert some frames into your conversations to make sure you and the other person or people involved are on the same track.  It’s possible to overdo this.  That’s for sure.  But ignoring it altogether is even more problematic.  It’s one of those techniques we all know about, but often forget to employ.

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Do You Work For a Monster?

If so, you may find some solace and tips in the blog I posted yesterday on Big Think, “The Vulnerability of Power.”  It’s natural to think that power, once obtained, grows.  But, in actuality, those in power, especially the predictable among us, put themselves in power jeopardy all the time.  It takes an astute observer to determine where the vulnerability lies and how to manage someone with real or perceived power or to do your part to take that power away.

People with power are vulnerable, too, because those with less of it observe them carefully — far more so than the powerful who may assume that they no longer need to be so observant.  This makes them vulnerable.  Stop by Big Think to see if you can change the way power is lorded over you.

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