The sound of silence – 25%

If you thought that persuasion was geared to words only – think again! But please avoid the well-debunked Professor Mehrabian formula (and refuted by him himself). See previous blog.

I have done a couple of posts about silence and its role in persuasive communication. Pauses matter. I can quote Mozart [“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between”], and Churchill’s speeches as visualised by Paul de Monchaux in his sculpture Song [“the spaces around words can amplify their meaning”]

The above photo is taken from a workshop run by Amanda MacAuley and me about Compelling Data Storytelling. The whiteboard background is how I proved that 25% of any presentation should be silence.

Food for thought? Space for thought!

Silence is not always golden

Silence. Something I have recently been pondering again – but this time about how silence has a double edge. My blog “Silence is Golden” at https://garethbunn.wordpress.com/2012/09/ covered the positive side. A distillation of this follows.

The power of silence

Communication is an event in your audience’s mind. The purpose is to affect behaviour of your audience in the future. This relies upon the creation of memory. Memory is created in silence – “the power of the spaces around words”. If you keep on talking, memory is defeated.

So, we know that good oratory – if it is to affect behaviour – relies on the frequent use of the pause (at least 3 seconds). If you want to hear an excellent example see Obama at his best. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHAkDTlv8fA

The abuse of the power of silence

The other “edge” of silence is the refusal to respond. This is a form of abuse and has become pandemic in written communications – perhaps because of the worry about legal/contractual implications – a reason why no-one now ever says “sorry”.

I am sure I remember when I was a Civil Servant that if I received a letter from a member of the public it was my duty to reply. But that obligation is rarely honoured in business these days. We have all done it – ignored someone’s letter or email. I remember when I was a senior person in corporate life, I did not respond to several emails from a colleague who had left the company. He eventually sent me a message which started out “Have I done something to offend you?” That shook me out of my rudeness. I replied straight away.

However, I am finding that this type of rudeness (or ignorance as they might say in Wales) is becoming a disease.

Senior staff in companies which espouse collaboration and honesty frequently show complete disdain (if not contempt) for their business partners and suppliers; by not responding to messages which clearly require a simple response, advice or information. This is an arrogant abuse of power – the negative aspect of silence.

As a client friend put it “It is easier to do nothing than to do something”.

So, I decided I would so something – by at least getting my own house in order. Included in my Email signature block is a commitment which reads:

Whenever I receive emails from individuals requiring a response (excluding unsolicited messages and SPAM) I aim to respond within 24 hours.

And I commit to living by this aim. I am not asking for much – just a reciprocation of common courtesy. Perhaps you might do the same?

 

So nothing has changed….

Last year’s post

Below is my post from January 2019. I don’t think much has changed when it comes to truth and lies. And the comment about railways needs no update. (But apologies to Caroline Lucas if I misrepresent her current view).

So I repeat it all. I have changed “two years” to “three years”. Otherwise the same.

A wish for 2020

I thought a lot about my own company and what I do. I train and coach others to be more compelling, more influential and persuasive. But there was precious little in my marketing materials or course overviews which really focused on truthfulness and integrity. The conclusion dawned on me:

  • Influence without sincerity is tyranny
  • Persuasion without honesty is manipulation

So let us do what we can in 2020, each in our own way, to demonstrate sincere influence and honest persuasion.

Our recent past

The last three years have been communication shockers. Debate on political and social matters have become shouting matches. Reason has by and large been trashed by the shouty people and replaced with unsubstantiated assertions, enthymemes, and mendacity.

This is a pretty black picture – but whether one looks West or East or across many European countries (most notably the UK) – the pursuit of truth and considered argument has been put under intense pressure, and often attacked as being a conspiracy of fear. This is a tactic used for example by Climate Change Deniers and by ardent Brexit campaigners to undermine the arguments and amassed evidence of their opponents.

False argument

Particularly discouraging is the use of false (or at least incomplete) argument. Caroline Lucas – of whom I am normally something of a fan – seemed to me to do this when tweeting about the state of the railways this week (the 3.1% fare increase). https://twitter.com/CarolineLucas on Jan 2nd.

It is clearly true that the last year has been, for some railways users, chaotic and unsatisfactory. It is also self-evident that a national transport infrastructure needs appropriate investment. It is also arguable – but probably right – that the structure of the industry is not optimal. And the failures in the franchising process points to a need for radical overhaul/replacement.

Some facts

It is a fact that the industry was privatised in the mid 90s. A further fact that the infrastructure management component (Railtrack) was brought back into public ownership as Network Rail less than a decade later.

The solution

But I can see no root cause analysis which would point to the re-nationalisation of the railways as an obvious way forward. British Rail – the state owned predecessor – was no advertisement for quality, cost-effectiveness, reliability or investment. In fact, quite the opposite. “We’re getting there” was the most optimism it could muster. And would you put the future of the railways in the hands of a Department and Secretary of State who puts the entire blame for this year’s 3.1% fare increase on the unions?

The thing is, I do think there is benefit in having a considered assessment of different structural and investment options. But boiling everything down to a question of state or part-private ownership loses most or all of the flavour.

Why rhetoric has got a bad name

My subject and interest is communication and persuasion – what I have always thought of as the noble art of rhetoric. It upsets me that the term is most commonly used now as a put-down – “just rhetoric”. I am not surprised though, because many of our politicians do not even try to substantiate their arguments, relying instead upon disingenuity and appeals to prejudice – the “as we all know…….” statement. Assertions without a body of proof are indeed “just rhetoric” and that makes up most of what we hear from our politicians and read in our newspapers. In fact it is much worse than the bland “just rhetoric” label – it is actually sophistry. The passing of Paddy Ashdown, a politician who took pains to explain and exemplify his arguments, paints the appalling quality of the current political stock in high relief.

A wish for 2020

I thought a lot about my own company and what I do. I train and coach others to be more compelling, more influential and persuasive. But there was precious little in my marketing materials or course overviews which really focused on truthfulness and integrity. The conclusion dawned on me:

  • Influence without sincerity is tyranny
  • Persuasion without honesty is manipulation

So let us do what we can in 2020 each in our own way, to demonstrate sincere influence and honest persuasion.

State of the oration – a wish for 2019

Our recent past

The last two years have been communication shockers. Debate on political and social matters have become shouting matches. Reason has by and large been trashed by the shouty people and replaced with unsubstantiated assertions, enthymemes, and mendacity.

This is a pretty black picture – but whether one looks West or East or across many European countries (most notably the UK) – the pursuit of truth and considered argument has been put under intense pressure, and often attacked as being a conspiracy of fear. This is a tactic used for example by Climate Change Deniers and by ardent Brexit campaigners to undermine the arguments and amassed evidence of their opponents.

False argument

Particularly discouraging is the use of false (or at least incomplete) argument. Caroline Lucas – of whom I am normally something of a fan – seemed to me to do this when tweeting about the state of the railways this week (the 3.1% fare increase). https://twitter.com/CarolineLucas on Jan 2nd.

It is clearly true that the last year has been, for some railways users, chaotic and unsatisfactory. It is also self-evident that a national transport infrastructure needs appropriate investment. It is also arguable – but probably right – that the structure of the industry is not optimal. And the failures in the franchising process points to a need for radical overhaul/replacement.

Some facts

It is a fact that the industry was privatised in the mid 90s. A further fact that the infrastructure management component (Railtrack) was brought back into public ownership as Network Rail less than a decade later.

The solution

But I can see no root cause analysis which would point to the renationalisation of the railways as an obvious way forward. British Rail – the state owned predecessor – was no advertisement for quality, cost-effectiveness, reliability or investment. In fact, quite the opposite. “We’re getting there” was the most optimism it could muster. And would you put the future of the railways in the hands of a Department and Secretary of State who puts the entire blame for this year’s 3.1% fare increase on the unions?

The thing is, I do think there is benefit in having a considered assessment of different structural and investment options. But boiling everything down to a question of state or part-private ownership loses most or all of the flavour.

Why rhetoric has got a bad name

My subject and interest is communication and persuasion – what I have always thought of as the noble art of rhetoric. It upsets me that the term is most commonly used now as a put-down – “just rhetoric”. I am not surprised though, because many of our politicians do not even try to substantiate their arguments, relying instead upon disingenuity and appeals to prejudice – the “as we all know…….” statement. Assertions without a body of proof are indeed “just rhetoric” and that makes up most of what we hear from our politicians and read in our newspapers. In fact it is much worse than the bland “just rhetoric” label – it is actually sophistry. The passing of Paddy Ashdown, a politician who took pains to explain and exemplify his arguments, paints the appalling quality of the current political stock in high relief.

A wish for 2019

I thought a lot about my own company and what I do. I train and coach others to be more compelling, more influential and persuasive. But there was precious little in my marketing materials or course overviews which really focused on truthfulness and integrity. The conclusion dawned on me:

  • Influence without sincerity is tyranny
  • Persuasion without honesty is manipulation

So let us do what we can in 2019, each in our own way, to demonstrate sincere influence and honest persuasion.

 

Kipper© Mark 2 has arrived and training certified

Thank you for the thousands of reactions to my recent blog about the Kipper© communication technique. Great to see so many fans of the technique out there reflecting its power in persuasive communication.

Developments

If you’re feeling a bit rusty though, I have launched “Kipper©-Mark2” as part of the much-acclaimed ‘Getting Your Message Across’ training course which covers design and delivery of team messages (pitches) using the TeamKipper©. We have also extended the technique to running meetings – virtually, as well as face to face – using the MeetingKipper©. If you’ve ever had a painful teleconference call (and who hasn’t?) let the updated Kipper© change the dynamic for you completely.

Contacts for training

For refresher training or to roll out to others in your organisation, contact me https://bit.ly/2pGvmiT or my certified associate Amanda MacAuley http://bit.ly/2GODFPZ .

With the Getting Your Message Across course now CPD certified, it’s a great time to bring your communication skills bang up to date and unleash the power of the Kipper© in your organisation.

Licensing

Options are also available to be licensed as a trainer in the Kipper for those wishing to deliver training themselves. If you’ve been trained in the Kipper you can use the Kipper. If you want to teach the Kipper you need a licence. Applications are welcome. Note – I do this to maintain quality and integrity and to avoid the distortions of the past.

Post-truth and our duty of care

Looking back

Well, my last post to this blog was a week before the famous, or infamous, referendum in June 2016. And my analysis then, although accurate in part (especially about the role of pathos or emotions in the vote) put too much weight upon the role of ethos – the standing and credibility of the speakers. I suppose that the tactic of discrediting “experts” as a group would have eroded the impact of this particular, and normally most important, lever of persuasion.

My June post was a reflection on the paucity of facts to support the referendum decision. Since then, “post-fact” and “post-truth” have become frequently used expressions, any acceptance of which we all should, I believe, find truly alarming.

A duty of care

Every one of us, but especially the Prime Minister and other members of the Government and of Parliament, has a duty of care to the nation and its citizens. This means that we and they should not, by act or omission, do anything which could reasonably be foreseen would cause injury to a neighbour. To exercise this duty demands that we do our homework by searching for facts, forecasts, likely outcomes and balances of probability. This is the essence of “evidence-based policy” much vaunted by some, if not all, politicians and their advisors.

Implication

This creates something of a conundrum. In a rapidly changing world and political environment, whatever the best predictions might have been some months ago, it is very possible that the assumptions then deployed might now not hold good and a current policy based upon them might now reasonably be foreseen to be damaging to the nation. And if the Government makes such a discovery, it has a Duty of Care to change course; at the very least to tell the truth to Parliament and the electorate.

The binary world

But, this word truth is a problem in our world which, urged on by some disingenuous politicians and commentators, increasingly adopts a polarised, binary view. Factions are labelled left or right, pro or anti, East or West, there are believers and non-believers, something is either right or wrong, good or bad. And we had to vote to leave or remain! I guess for some things a clear and binary distinction is useful, but I worry a lot about its simplistic over-use.

Theory of Mean

I was (figuratively) thumbing through some materials on my PC when I came across an extract from a book I had read on Ethics. The extract concerned Aristotle’s Theory of Mean. The basic tenet of this is that virtue does not lie at an extreme but sits at a point between two extremes – the mean. The most quoted example takes the concept of “courage”. If asked what the opposite of “courage” is, most people would probably say “cowardice” and vice versa. Actually, the opposite of “cowardice” would be best represented as “recklessness”. “Courage” lies in between those two extremes.

The search for truth

It strikes me that the Theory of Mean has something to offer our concept of truth. Fact and truth are not synonymous. Facts can (and should where they are available) inform an opinion or proposition. What one holds to be a truth is often a distillation of many facts, opinions and propositions. So, perhaps we can use the Theory of Mean as a template or guiding principle, and search for truth within and amongst the cloud of possibilities, rather than assume it is to be found at an extremity, on one side of a binary argument.

 

 

 

 

EU referendum rhetoric unpicked

Facts, statistics and lies

Much has been said about wanting the facts about the EU leave or stay referendum. But we have a problem here – there really are none of any substance.  The few that may be regarded as facts relevant to the referendum – for instance what it costs the UK to be a member of the EU – have been used in a way which can only be described as disingenuous.  Essentially, all we have is speculation about risks and, occasionally, probability.

So perhaps we should unwind a little and see what is going on in this murky world of political rhetoric.

Rhetoric

Rhetoric is a much maligned word. It is the art and craft of persuasion, generally applied to the spoken word. Good deliberative rhetoric involves expressing opinions or assertions (which are necessarily arguable), and then proving their validity with evidence. One of the best political proponent of this during my lifetime has been Paddy Ashdown.

Sophistry is deceitful rhetoric where lies and invention are used instead. Any observer of the EU referendum campaign(s) might well conclude that it is this that makes up a large part of the messaging. Jonathan Freedland’s article in the Guardian 14 May 2016 provides good coverage of the lies and distortions that have been used in the US in the presidential candidate race and over here in the UK on the EU referendum.

The three levers of persuasion

But back to the problem – there are precious few facts. It is worth thinking about the three classical levers of persuasion: logos (the argument, rationale); pathos (the sentiment, emotions); ethos (the bearing or standing of the speaker).

Logos

Logos is tricky in this case because of the absence of reliable facts and figures. Other forms of evidence might include logic, deduction, analogy, example, anecdote, quotation, testimony. One cannot win a rational argument by making an assertion and then pretending to prove the point with another even bigger assertion. I say “cannot win” but clearly, the undiscerning and the reckless may well be won over in this way. One of the most powerful forms of evidence is 3rd party (i.e. independent) and witness testimony. In other words, and as an example, we should want to know what the Governor of the Bank of England and the President of the Unites States thinks. To suggest that we should only be allowed to hear from the core mud-slinging combatants in the leave and stay campaigns is to deprive us of the evidence we need to hear and assess.

Pathos

So, on to pathos. A commentator on Radio 4 on 15 May observed – with some concern – that the decision to vote to stay or leave is being taken at an emotional level. But this is not unusual. As Cicero put it – “For people make many more judgements under the influence of hate or affection or partiality or anger or grief or joy or hope or fear or delusion or some other emotion, than on the basis of the truth or an objective rule…”. It is of course the emotions that both campaigns are attempting to excite – the main one being fear – but in a heady mix of chauvinism and misanthropy and a worrying disregard for the truth.

Ethos

So how can we make a balanced and thoughtful decision? Let us turn to the final lever of persuasion – ethos – the lever which Aristotle identified as the “most important” in oratory. What it implies is that we are more likely to accept the opinions and arguments of those who we believe are credible, that have authority and a reputation for integrity. In the absence of a clear logos and wishing to avoid making such a monumental decision purely based upon pathos it is I believe the credibility of the people involved in the two opposing campaigns that has the greatest significance. I would include also the ethos of those others outside the campaign teams who choose to make comment on the merits or otherwise of a Brexit.

Of course, when it comes to the vote, I suspect the majority will be swayed by emotion rather than anything else. But given the paucity of facts, I would suggest that the credibility of the speakers will be, and arguably should be, a prime ingredient.

A reflection

I remember talking to an elderly Peer – a cross-bencher in the House of Lords some years ago. We were having lunch in the Palace of Westminster dining room at a time when a number of votes were taking place. At the appropriate times he would excuse himself, go to cast his vote, and return after a few minutes. I asked him how he made his decisions on what appeared to be quite complex matters. He said “I don’t. I just watch who goes which way, and follow the ones I trust – or mistrust the least.”

I suspect that may be what this referendum will ultimately be about. But what a shocking way to make such a momentous decision.