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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