Persuasion: The Lost Art at The Top

My blog, “Why Should We Believe Them This Time?” is on Huffington Post today.  It’s a question that must be in the minds of not only Americans but people around the world trying to assess whether this time our leaders are telling the truth.  They have what is commonly known as a credibility gap and it isn’t getting any smaller.

I’ve studied and taught persuasion and negotiation for many years.  I’ve had time to observe how easy it is to become accepting of the “some people say” variety of evidence. How often we hear, “A study just showed…” with no reference to the source or recognition that one study rarely “shows” anything.

Persuasion is very challenging because people come to most situations with opinions of their own.  Changing those requires them to give up a part of themselves — especially if they’ve expressed those ideas and committed to them in the past.  To persuade effectively requires that we understand the perceptions of the other person or group and work from there to show them how an alternative view is something that is appropriate in terms of the situation, consistent in some way with their views or past behaviors, or effective in terms of reaching their goals.  That is why in Persuasion in Practice I described persuasion at its best as something done with not to people.

This is work.  Increasingly, it appears that it is work that many of us prefer to avoid. With all the information we take in each day, we’ve become lazy processors.  It’s an easy trap to fall into.  We’ve come to expect less from those who seek to persuade us.

Essentially that is what the blog on Huffpo is about.  Why indeed should we believe our government this time?  Where is the data?  What nearly unequivocal support have they presented to persuade us that this time they’re telling us the truth?  Why have we not heard directly from the man at the top?  Isn’t this a decision with such major implications for the world that a presidential explanation is required?

When explanations of major decisions are delegated, that in itself has persuasive force.  It suggests that something is amiss.  And since we’ve been here more than once before, there is good reason to expect that nothing has changed.


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