Persuading Lawmakers to Protect Us From Gun Violence

One of the most persuasive opinion pieces on the issue of gun control was published yesterday in the New York Times. “Want Gun Control? Learn from the N.R.A.” by Hahrie Han proposes that we look at why rational arguments simply don’t work when it comes to convincing lawmakers and those opposed to gun control to take measures protecting U.S. citizens from gun violence.  It’s an article about persuasion even though the author does not describe it as such.  Han is a University of California Santa Barbara expert in the study of civic and political participation, collective action, organizing, and social change, particularly as it pertains to social policy, environmental issues, and democratic revitalization.

One of the primary arguments advanced by Han is this:

The N.R.A.’s power is not just about its money or number of supporters or a favorable political map. It has also built something that gun-control advocates lack: an organized base of grass-roots power.

Han argues that gun-control groups focus on persuasion, while gun-rights groups focus on identity.  In a way, though, the latter is a form of persuasion.  Homophily, or the sense of similarity people feel toward others, is one of the primary aspects of source credibility.  In persuasion theory and research terms, that means to the extent you seem to be like me in some important ways, I’m more inclined to listen, be attracted to, learn from and side with you.

Han posits that the N.R.A. has formulated a base via relationships.  As a cohesive collective this base is more powerful than gun-control advocates who cling to common sense and moral outrage but don’t come together as protectors of a way of life.  She adds that there are more gun clubs and gun shops in the United States than there are McDonalds.  And, the N.R.A. can bring 80,000 people together for a conference — people who see themselves as protectors, not simply of guns, but of a way of life.

I always start my persuasion and negotiation classes and presentations with the observation that no idea, no matter how sensible, attractive, intriguing, or clearly presented, stands on its own.  To persuade those on the fence about the need for gun common sense and even those who consider themselves opposed to automatic weapons, for example, we need to think about the way of life such common sense protects.  We can’t visit the issue occasionally and hope for change.  Gun lobbyists will wait for the horror in Las Vegas to fade in memory.  To bring about change, moral outrage must be converted to consistent, collective action protecting the lives and liberties of the innocent.

Four million have joined the Everytown for Gun Safety, Han points out.  But that’s just a start.  Only when a substantial base is formed of people invested in protecting the rights of those who merely wish to attend a concert or go to school will we possibly see change. Only when that base repeatedly, doggedly pounds on the doors of senators and congress people “owned” by gun lobbies insisting that they refuse to take money from them will we see change.

It isn’t enough to be right about the need for what I’d rather call gun management than gun control as the latter evokes defensiveness.  There needs to be more understanding of why so many people are willing to risk the lives of innocent people so that they might purchase whatever guns, in whatever quantity, they wish.

Effective persuasion is about knowing how the other side thinks.  Those who advocate for gun control must clearly define a view of the future with which people who own handguns and/or hunting rifles can identify.  They must provide opportunities for those morally outraged by gun violence to come together and grow in both voice and number. Until these things happen, we can expect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be robbed again and again from innocent people simply wishing to go about their daily lives.








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Are You in a Patient Style Rut?

After blogging on the front page of Huffington Post since 2005, Arianna Huffington invited me to blog on her site Thrive Global. As a former professor not only of business and communication, but also preventive medicine, it’s a good fit. Here is the first of what I hope will be many blogs with Thrive Global where well-being is a high priority.  See what patient communication style fits you.

Link to “Are You in a Patient Style Rut?”

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STOP! with the “Look!” and “Listen!”

Try listening to the news or political interviews now days without hearing statements starting with “Look!” or “Listen!”  Not so long ago, such exclamations were rude and insulting.  In many contexts, they still are.

Imagine a person being interviewed for a job starting sentences with either of these words.

Interviewer:  “Tell me why as a young person you chose music over sports?”

Interviewee:  “Look!”  I never liked sports.”

It’s rude — plain and simple.  The interviewee above comes across as defensive — even aggressive — in response to a logical question.

Yet, we hear “Look!” and “Listen!” daily as what communication experts refer to as aligning actions.  Some aligning actions are quite useful.  “Look!” and “Listen! are, however, often used to make innocuous statements sound significant.  Unless said pensively or apologetically, for example, “Look!” and “Listen!” can easily sound like “Look (or Listen), you idiot!”

It’s time to question and quash this habit before young people inadvertently acquire it and find themselves not getting jobs or acceptances to college because they used “Look!” or “Listen!” with a person who was clearly looking and listening — thank you very much!

We have moved into a period of greater directness, especially in televised media.  That does not mean that abrasive short-cuts to gravitas work in the real world.  They don’t.  The next time someone says “Look!” or “Listen!” to you, try calmly telling them that’s exactly what you’re doing.  Perhaps it will help them discard a verbal habit others find offensive.  It might give them pause.  If you’re a manager, try banning those words at meetings.  You’ll likely reduce conflict.  Additionally, you’ll be doing the people present and all of us a great favor.

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Some Thoughts on Leadership and Why It’s Lacking

Here are some thoughts about leadership derived from my work with fellow professors and researchers Alan Rowe and Warren Bennis.  You can find more about the LSI and leadership types here and in The Secret Handshake where you’ll also find the inventory.

When we define leadership in static ways with little or no regard to the context in which it’s operating, we often follow the wrong people or the right people doing the wrong thing.


The Leadership Style Inventory (LSI) developed by Rowe, Reardon, and Bennis (1995) identifies four basic styles: commanding, logical, inspirational, and supportive. One of its major strengths is recognition of the complexity behind leader behavior.  Contrary to the common view that the best leaders are decisive, when the going gets tough a combination of styles may prove best.  The LSI assesses four styles suited to different types of problems.

The commanding style, most closely aligned with decisiveness, focuses on performance and has a short-term goal orientation. Commanders are results oriented. They can be very effective when goal achievement is the primary focus. They learn better by their own successes and failures than by input from others.

The logical style pertains to leaders who insist on assessing alternatives. They look to long-term goals, use analysis and questioning, and learn by reasoning things through. They are particularly effective when the goal is strategy development.

The inspirational style is characteristic of those who are able to develop meaningful visions of the future by focusing on radically new ideas; they learn by experimentation. They show a high level of concern for assuring cohesiveness of members of the organization and encouraging others to follow the vision. They are inquisitive, curious, and satisfied by finding novel solutions.

Those leaders who are more concerned with consensus score high in the supportive dimension. They emphasize openness and operate more as facilitators than directors. They learn by observing outcomes and how others react to their decisions.

Most leaders do not possess a single style, but a combination. These combinations indicate which styles leaders are predisposed to use.

American business executives tend to score high on the commanding style and low on supportive. Research using the LSI provided the following means for American executives: commanding, 86; logical, 80; inspirational, 81; supportive, 53. The means provide an indication of style predispositions. Such style patterns, however, are not necessarily static. It is possible, even preferable, for leaders to develop the capacity to adapt their styles to the demands of situations, especially when their organizations are undergoing disruption or radical change.

So, what does this mean for any leader?  It means that he or she needs to be careful not to be a one-trick pony when it comes to leadership. Political leadership is not the same as business or military leadership.  And none of them are all about appearing decisive.

Leadership is responsive to the situation at hand.  Commanding leaders are often inclined to act quickly and if there is a fire in the building, that kind of leadership is desirable.  But when there are long-term relationships to consider as well as maintenance of change, the commander often falls short.




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Why Donald Trump Isn’t a Good Negotiator

Countless times we’ve read and heard that President Trump is an exceptional negotiator. The truth is that he lacks key skills, first among them persuasion. Coercion may bring about a “win,” but if there will be future dealings with the same “loser” (using the president’s terminology), next time he or she just might be more prepared and certainly more determined to avoid the previous outcome.

Truly effective negotiators rely on persuasion, not coercion. Yes, there is a gray area between the two. As a rule, however, persuasion is done WITH someone, not TO someone. It avoids manipulation and coercion, because substantive argument is its backbone. Persuasion requires learning to manage negotiations to a preferred outcome, also beneficial to the other side, rather than bullying them into submission.

That’s why a skilled negotiator understands how words and actions shape perceptions that stand in the way of alliances. Such negotiators are always asking questions. They don’t let the past determine their present nor are they ruled by routine. They’re alert to what has remained the same and what has changed. They don’t assume they know the priorities of the other side. When in doubt, they ask.

Astute negotiators never prepare for a totally competitive or totally cooperative negotiation. Preparing for only one type causes novice negotiators to be thrown off when confronting the other. Many negotiators have given away the store because they prepared for resistance and instead met cooperation. Others have done so or walked away with nothing because they expected cooperation and found themselves facing hard-nosed tactics.

Expert negotiators do their homework. They use others’ predictability to inform their own choices — while trying to avoid giving their counterparts a similar advantage. This requires not being in a rut –perhaps relying solely on power or focusing on personal “wins” instead of what would bring about desirable outcomes for both sides.

Contrary to popular lingo on the topic, negotiation is not a macho, bring-it-on, make-my-day activity. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, the tougher negotiations are those that involve finding ways to encourage resistant others to hear you out and move in your direction. Often that means moving on some issues in their direction.

We’ve heard a lot about Trump not having enough “wins” and Republicans needing a “win” on healthcare, but little about what it would take for a good outcome that benefits the American people who need it most. Skilled negotiators don’t lose often, but they don’t win simply to win.

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How to “Stun” Speechless an F.B.I. Director — James Comey Testimony Takeaways

One of the main takeaways from former F.B.I. Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week is that timing, if not everything, is indeed crucial to the interpretation of events.

When President Donald Trump pressured Comey to drop the F.B.I. investigation of Gen. Michael Flynn’s connections with Russia, and when he asked for Comey’s personal loyalty, the then F.B.I. head failed to inform the president that such requests are wrong – especially in private.

The Justice Department has specific guidelines developed to avoid the extensive influence exerted by late Director J. Edgar Hoover over several U.S. presidents.  These guidelines pertain specifically to appropriate communication:

The relevant guidelines from a May 11, 2009 Attorney General memorandum read as follows:

 The Assistant Attorneys General, the United States Attorneys, and the heads of the investigative agencies in the Department have the primary responsibility to initiate and supervise investigations and cases. These officials, like their superiors and their subordinates, must be insulated from influences that should not affect decisions in particular criminal or civil cases. As the Supreme Court said long ago with respect to United States Attorneys, so it is true of all those who exercise the Department’s investigatory and prosecutorial powers: they are representatives “not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” — Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935).

Following this establishment of priorities are specific instructions for communications with the president:

In order to ensure the President’s ability to perform his constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” the Justice Department will advise the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal or civil investigations or cases when – but only when – it is important for the performance of the President’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.

As James Comey made clear in his testimony, he was aware of these requirements and others in the memorandum.

Yet, he did not tell the president that their private meetings were wrong – to say nothing of the subject matter. His admission to such inaction being “slightly cowardly” does not alter that fact that such meetings occurred – more than once.  (His understated phraseology reminds me of his “mildly nauseous” description of how he feels when thinking about his Trump-favorable influence on the 2016 election.)

It’s interesting to note, too, that Comey had harsh words for former AG Loretta Lynch given her having met with former President Clinton, but considers his own inappropriate meetings with a sitting president, one potentially under investigation, minor and defensible misjudgments.

That brings us to the issue of timing as it relates to blame. What if Comey’s “stunned” responses had been leaked right after they’d occurred rather than after Trump’s dismissal of him?  Certainly he would have been criticized for speaking privately to the president. His leadership and integrity might well have been questioned.  At this point in time, however, a lot of water has gone over the dam. Within the context of his firing, his being “defamed” by Trump, referred to by the president as a “nut job,” and his willingness to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the impact of his inaction – to his benefit — has been muted.

At the very least, though, when the Director of the F.B.I. is asked by a president to do something wrong — yet he replies, “We’ll see what we can do” — there should be less fawning by senators regarding the quality of his judgment.

It’s hard not to wonder if a President Hillary Clinton would have received the F.B.I. Director’s patience and willingness to violate DOJ established protocol even for less egregious actions than those attributed to Trump by Comey.

Would the F.B.I. director have contacted the attorney general and advised him to help the president understand how her relationship with the F.B.I. should be conducted – a courtesy Comey extended to President Trump?  Or would he have cut Clinton no slack, and made sure she paid a high price for such behavior?  You don’t need to be a genius to answer that question?

Is Comey a hero or perhaps a villain?  Is he a patriot hampered by attacks of questionable judgment? Or did he purposely help Donald Trump win and then realize he’d backed the wrong horse?

History may reveal the answer sooner rather than later.  At least we now know that the president asked a top Justice Dept. official for favors and loyalty, fired him when he appeared to refuse, flouted well-established procedures, and lied repeatedly.

Investigations are underway that may lead to criminal charges of people in the president’s inner circle – perhaps the president himself. Whether Comey’s testimony helps him pay his dues for admitted errors remains to be seen.  But at least someone in a position to know has placed Americans on official notice that their president can’t be trusted.






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Failed NATO Speech by President Trump — A Lesson on Poor Leadership

True leadership is in large part about communication.  Today, we saw President Trump speak to the NATO leaders.  Instead of speaking of their collective moral goals and rather than bind them as one in ending terrorism around the world, he scolded them for not paying their bills.

While world leaders waited for the president to endorse Article 5, stating that an attack on any member is an attack on all, he instead jested that he hadn’t asked how much the NATO building addition was costing.

There is a time and place for airing differences, for risking pettiness to make a point, and this president has no sense of that.  Attempting to humiliate heads of state from around the world at a public ceremony is the height of ignorance when it comes to communication and persuasion timing.

If his goal was to let people back home know he is insisting that NATO members pay the “massive” amounts they owe, it was the wrong venue for doing so.  His demeanor and words drew snickers from some leaders, frowns from others and likely disdain from most.

It’s difficult not to ask, “Who the heck does he think he is?”  And, no doubt, the leaders assembled were asking themselves that question.  President Trump chose a ceremony aimed, in part, at the dedication of a 9/11 statue to verbally slap leaders from around the world about paying bills.  It was wrong.  It was cheap. More importantly, it achieved nothing except growing animus.

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