Dianna Booher: Political Debates, Network News and Communicating with Skeptics Like You

Are you tired of reading and hearing politicians
and pundits tells us what “the American people want” or what “the American people
don’t want”? It’s difficult to find a news publication or political debate without
someone waxing eloquently on their understanding of what we, the people, want in the way of
tax reform, social security reform, immigration reform, foreign policy, or domestic policy
on any number of social or economic issues. As a communicator, you have the same skeptics
as those who watch network news or read these stories online.
Overstatement sets you up for failure. Let’s say you’re having lunch with colleagues
or clients and someone says, “I heard the funniest story yesterday—you’re not going
to believe this. It’s hilarious!” A typical first reaction from listeners will
be, “Oh, yeah? Try me.” Then after they hear that story, there’s often the letdown—the
that-wasn’t-so-funny feeling. Why? Because overstating the case begs people to be skeptical.
Give your audience (for example, readers of your proposal or listeners in your audience)
the facts, and then let THEM tell you how impressed they are.
Unsupported generalizations tend either to push people to the opposite extreme or drag
them along screaming. Consider generalizations the careless person’s habit of writing their
“facts” rather than researching them. • “As leading experts have noted . . . ” (Who?
Where?) • “Few will doubt . . .” (If that’s
true, why point it out?) • “Few will argue with the fact that . . .” (An
attempt to keep me from arguing?) • “Most users prefer . . .” (Which surveys
are you referring to?) • “The vast majority of physicians and
attorneys today agree that . . . “ (Agree? You’ve got to be kidding!)
• “Several professors at major universities . . . “ (Right. Like which ones? Your graduate
adviser and who else? If they disagree, are they not a major university?) To sum up about overstatement: Speakers, writers,
consultants, salespeople, engineers, PR specialists, physicians, and attorneys around the globe—in
fact, anyone who needs to persuade others as part of their job—will agree that generalizations
have no place in ANY serious communication. (Any skeptics regarding this last sweeping
generalization? See what I mean about begging you to differ?)

Maurice Vega

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