Respectful Rhetoric Part I

In this age of 24 hour media does it not seem that we are under a constant barrage of oneupmanship and whose voice can drown out the other?  Where is common courtesy and respect for the other person?  How can these attributes be leveraged as an asset for both business and personal success?   

A lot of our communication can be tiresome.  It not only may tend towards loud and obnoxious, but intrusive, all knowing, and often self-centered.  I have reduced much of my television viewing for these very reasons.

The alternative, print media, can be just as provocative.  A major daily that I subscribe to on line flashes advertising for a car dealership upon clicking to the first story selected, repeated clicks to remove the ad seemingly either ineffective or further locking in and illuminating the ad.

To be fair, I don't want to cast stones solely at our often maligned journalists.  Many interpersonal conversations center upon the first person pronoun--I, me, mine, we, rather than the interests and welfare of the other person.  I suppose this tendency has always been part of the human condition, yet shouldn't we expect a better state, a Stephen Covey-ish, "seek first to understand then be understood?" approach.

I was thumbing through a recent issue of PEOPLE (okay, I read PEOPLE) and happened upon a story about Chip Gaines, he half of the husband/wife Fixer Upper team of HGTV Fame.  To the surprise of many Chip and spouse, Joanna, have announced their departure from television following the end of this current season.  He said something I found important when asked about bridging the gap between people with widely different points of view:

I wonder if being angrily shouted at or arrogantly debated with has ever swayed a single person?  Are human hearts moved by being ridiculed and mocked?  When people fling accusations with the presumption of knowing another person's intentions, what possible outcome could they be hoping for?  Who would ever move to their enemy's camp under such treatment?  

I really believe that we won't get anywhere, that no healing or breakthrough can occur apart from developing actual relationships with one another.  As much as I love Twitter, Twitter feuds aren't going to work.  Actually connecting requires true face-to-face time.  

I believe with all my heart that it's only after working side by side with another person that you earn the right to speak into that person's life.  It's a basis of friendship that can forge a path towards common ground.  

Benjamin Franklin was a master of rhetoric, often answering a question with another question.  What this technique accomplished was not only getting his views across through carefully wording the inquiry response, but invariably defused potential contentiousness.  Further, although a person of means and esteem in his autobiography one would conclude that he often downplayed aspects of his own life that would place him too far above the average man.  There was an aspect of connectivity.  We see this trait in President Truman.  In actor James Stewart.  In evangelist Billy Graham.

"The Franklin Effect" was one avenue that Franklin used to deal with animosity and disagreement.  In his autobiography he explained how he dealt with the animosity of a rival legislator when he served in the Pennsylvania legislature in the 18th century:

Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days.  He sent it immediately, and I return'd it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour.  When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends and our friendship continued to his death. 

The "Effect" comes from one of Franklin's personal philosophies:  "He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he who you yourself have obliged."  

So what are some key methods we can use to defuse interpersonal conflict, promote our view, and bring about persuasion?  Stay in touch for the next communication, Part II.  And remember, "you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar."

The Seed Sower


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