Stop Trying to Prove Yourself to the World

When you assess your life and become conscious of how you look at the world and how you look at yourself, you may realize that you often obsess about what people think of you.

'Seeds for a Boundless Life' by Blanche Hartman (ISBN 1611802849) In the delightful and poignant Seeds for a Boundless Life: Zen Teachings from the Heart, the Soto Zen teacher Blanche Hartman (1926–2016) explains that freeing yourself from being controlled by what other people think is the key to living life with a composed and peaceful mind:

I noticed somewhere in the early years of my [Buddhist] practice that my big effort was to get people to love me. I really wanted people to love me. And what I discovered in practice was that it really didn’t matter what other people thought. The one whose love and appreciation and approval I wanted was right here, and I wouldn’t give it to myself. What I found out was that no matter how much approval I got from outside, it didn’t count if I was not able to appreciate myself and be willing to be who I am. Whatever this is, it has becomes this over an accumulation of the actions of body, speech, and mind of more than eighty years. It’s my creation in a way. And yet it’s really helpful if I acknowledge it and befriend this being that I have created with the help of all the beings with whom I have shared my life.

Be Your Own Person

Stop trying to prove yourself to the naysayers and critics. Avoid assertive behavior and insubordinate conduct that intends to prove you’re worthy to others. You don’t need others’ approval.

Idea for Impact: Don’t fritter away precious time and energy seeking to prove your worth and worrying that you could fall short. The right people will love you for who you are.

Office Chitchat Isn’t Necessarily a Time Waster

When Employees are Happy, They Work Better

Office Chitchat Isn't Necessarily a Time Waster Managers who disapprove and clamp down on impromptu encounters that people have at their desks, in the hallways, by the elevators, in the lunchroom, or by the water coolers can create a work environment that’s unpleasant, even repressive.

If truth be told, what may seems like idle chitchat actually forges links between people and encourages a culture of openness that can help people work toward common goals.

Informal, spontaneous conversations between coworkers, especially between colleagues from different departments, will not only give people a chance to know each other better, but also create a feeling of collaboration. The camaraderie that grows from employees sharing a little fun can go a long way toward fostering a feeling that they’re part of a team.

Chitchat is About Building Relationships

During those inconsequential “idle moments” of office conversations, important information is being exchanged. You’re learning much about others and offering details about yourself.

  • Whom can you trust? Who possesses strong convictions? Who has a broad experience or in-depth knowledge?
  • Who is a stimulating brainstormer? Who has the wherewithal for workarounds to problems?
  • Who can open doors for you? Who can facilitate otherwise hard-to-get connections?
  • Who can influence the leadership decisions? Who can evangelize your project to the right people? Who can bend the leadership’s ear? Who can be your cheerleader?
  • Who can lend a consoling ear in moments of problems or crisis? Who sees the bright side of problems?
  • Who can help you with questions on software, help you decide health insurance plans, or fix the printer?

Casual Conversations are About Networking and Leaving Positive Impressions

Small talk and casual conversations are an important element of collegial workplaces. People like talking about themselves, so if you can remember a nugget of information from the last time you met (kids, pets, and travels are great topics) bring it up.

To be respectful of others’ time, remember this two-minute rule: unless you’re discussing a topic of some importance, try to wrap up your small talk and casual chats in two minutes. Pay attention to your listener’s non-verbal cues and adjust the extent of your conversation. You can always arrange to convene later, “I’d love to hear more, but I’m in a rush. Why don’t I call you afterhours? How about we meet up for coffee this weekend?”

Nevertheless, don’t let chatter go too far and negatively impact your productivity or those of others. If you’re considered as too chatty, others may to resent bumping into you. If you tend to talk too much about yourself, you’ll be judged self-absorbed and interpersonally clueless.

Likeability is Important in How You Will Be Perceived in Your Workplace

Likeability is Important in How You Will Be Perceived in Your Workplace Cordiality is a significant persuasive technique because people are much more likely to feel warmly towards those they like. They’ll do things for you if you earnestly show interest in them, chat with them on a regular basis, and make them feel good about themselves.

Colleagues who don’t chat can come across as arrogant or abrupt. Highly competent but unpopular professionals don’t thrive as well as their moderately competent, but popular counterparts.

Small Talk is a Critical Tool for Creating a Personal Bond with Your Coworkers

Even though an office is primarily a place of business, chatting about non-work topics and establishing rapport with coworkers is important. People who know and like each other tend to have each other’s backs and help out when necessary.

Even if, eventually, you’ll be accepted or rejected based on the more tangible aspects of your work, the fact of the matter is that these interpersonal impressions matter a great deal along the way and can even shape how people judge your more actual work.

Idea for Impact: Balance your dedication to your workload with a cooperative nature, you will gain needed allies to get things done and to help your career progression in the company.

Curry Favor with Customers?

People know there’s great fame with getting things named after them.

The Scottish-American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) was fully mindful of this.

Carnegie started with his empire-building (read biography) by manufacturing steel rails for America’s burgeoning railroad industry. With great fanfare, he named his first steel plant after his most important customer, Edgar Thomson, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Edgar Thomson Steel Works has been in action since 1872.

Obsequious flattery is clever marketing indeed!

Presenting Facts Can Sometimes Backfire

Presenting Facts Can Sometimes Backfire People tend to have contempt for ideas that they disagree with. What’s worse is the possibility that some people, when presented with information that goes against their beliefs, may not only snub their challengers, but also double down on their original viewpoints. Cognitive psychologists call this the backfire effect.

For instance, voters have been shown to judge the political candidate they support even more favorably after the candidate is attacked by the other party. In the same way, parents opposed to vaccinations have been shown to become more convinced of their alleged apprehension that vaccination causes autism after reviewing studies showing that vaccinating their kids is the best course of action.

The backfire effect explains why, when people argue against conflicting information strongly enough, they wind up with more supportive arguments for their cause, which further aligns them with their preexisting positions.

The backfire effect is related to confirmation bias—the rampant propensity to seek, interpret, synthesize, and recall information in a way that substantiates one’s preconceptions. For instance, when people read an article that describes both sides of an issue, they tend to select that side that they happen to agree with—thus reinforcing their viewpoints.

See also: the phenomenon of group polarization explains why people who share opinions and beliefs get together in groups, they tend to be even more persuaded in their beliefs.

Why They Don’t Understand You and What to Do About It

Have you ever left a conversation or a meeting and felt that you weren’t heard—let alone understood? Do you tend to get blank stares from people as you are talking with them, as if you are speaking a foreign tongue?

Here are things you can do to help people understand you.

  1. Get your thinking straight. Cluttered thoughts nurture confusing communication. Think of the best ways to convey your message to the audience that you’re targeting. Prepare. Organize. Practice.
  2. How to Speak Confidently in Meetings Keep your messages succinct and simple. The more words you use to make a point, the more confusing the point can be. Get to the point quickly and don’t beat around the bush. Be concise without being boring or terse.
  3. Keep your communications focused. Prepare your message. Stick to your objective. Get rid of anything unrelated or irrelevant to your objective.
  4. Master the vernacular. Speak the same language of the industry, company, and team. Insider-lingo not only promotes a sense of belonging to the “crowd,” but can also help to get your concepts across more clearly.
  5. Speak their language. If you have a chance, listen to comparable meetings and observe how folks communicate. What are their hot buttons? What interests them? What are their objectives? What is their line of questioning? Try to adapt your arguments by aligning up your points with things they care about: their hot buttons and their pet topics.
  6. Customize the communication. Some people are visual learners, others respond best to arguments in long-winded, written form. Some like analogies better; others prefer concepts discussed directly. Determine how the people you are communicating with operate—you may have to present your data and information in a variety of formats. Other times people like to hear stories, so tell your information in a story format. Bring some props, prototypes, and samples.
  7. Rally some supporters. Determine the key opinion leaders and speak to them individually before the meeting. They will also let you know how they feel about it, which could influence others in the meeting. You can count on their support to your arguments and avoid surprise reactions and disagreements. If you get their support, chances are that you will get the support of others. (The management consulting firm McKinsey calls this “pre-wiring.”)
  8. Don’t broach details straight away. Avoid being too technical or precise unless the audience is geared up. Start with broad strokes to see if your audience understands you. Only when they are following you, introduce the complexity and detail.
  9. Portray yourself as a knowledgeable professional. Avoid stating fact with qualifiers like “I think” or “in my opinion.” Avoid slang and filler words such as “uh,” “uhm,” “like,” and “you know”—excessive use of filler words tends to make you seem mumbling, hesitant, and unintelligent.
  10. Be sincere. If you don’t know something, say so. Avoid losing your credibility or bringing into question your insight, experience, or impetus. If cannot answer a question you’ve been asked, don’t fake the funk. Say, “I don’t know the answer at this time, but I will get back to you.”
  11. 'Speak Like a CEO' by Suzanne Bates (ISBN 1260117480) Disagree tactfully. Think before you voice your own opinion: Will you be able to justify it? When preparing for the conversation, list all your arguments and ask a likely challenger to lay out the possible counterarguments. Try to incorporate those contentions into your arguments.
  12. Be confident but don’t brag. Frequently, when people try to be confident and persuasive in a presentation, they end up being boastful. While there’s nothing wrong with demonstrating a bit of complacency, it’s best to cast that boast in terms a benefit to the customer. For instance, saying just “I have 10 years of experience in this field” is a boast. In its place, say, “I have 10 years of experience in this field. I can assure you that any problems that arise will be handled promptly and competently.”
  13. Don’t try excessively to get them to see your point of view. Don’t persist too hard to get them to understand you. Know how hard to push your point and when to back off.
  14. Get feedback. After the meeting, don’t hesitate to ask a sympathetic member of the audience how you did. What did the audience get from the conversation? How could they better understand you in the future? By asking these questions, you will have a much better chance of connecting with them in the future. Plus, by asking the questions you have shown to them that you care about them understanding. And that helps build the relationships.

Idea for Impact: Good speaking isn’t about demonstrating your vocabulary, intelligence, or talent. It’s about communicating your message effectively.

How to Manage Smart, Powerful Leaders: Book Summary of Jeswald Salacuse’s ‘Leading Leaders’

How to Manage Smart, Powerful Leaders: Book Review of Jeswald Salacuse's 'Leading Leaders'

The Most Valuable People are Often the Most Difficult to Manage

As you climb the career ladder, you will find yourself working increasingly with many other powerful leaders—both inside and outside your organization—who hold the key to your success. Often, you may share responsibility and control with a variety of leaders over whom you may lack authority and influence. Compared to others you’ve worked with in the past, many of these leaders will be more talented, ambitious, competitive, accomplished, assertive, controlling, and ego-centric.

According to by Jeswald W. Salacuse’s Leading Leaders (2005), driving change when you lack influence over other leaders requires you to tread carefully. You must employ all the diplomatic and tactical skills at your command. “Your ability to lead other leaders arises not just from your position, resources or charisma, but from your will and skill.”

The Only Way to Lead Leaders is to Do What is in Their Interests

'Leading Leaders' by Jeswald Salacuse (ISBN 0814434568) Salacuse’s central idea in Leading Leaders: How to Manage Smart, Talented, Rich, and Powerful People is that your success depends exclusively on your personal ability to negotiate shared and conflicting objectives, and subordinate your interests to theirs. “Move your followers to take action by characterizing a problem or challenge in such a way that it is in their interests to do something about it.”

To do this, you must determine the interests of those you wish to lead and then make it loud and clear to them that you are indeed serving their interests. This requires meticulous listening, reframing of your objectives in terms of their interests, and respecting their authority and autonomy.

Salacuse breaks the challenge down into “seven daily tasks,” each of which takes a chapter in Leading Leaders.

  1. How to Direct and Negotiate the Vision: To negotiate a compelling vision for your organization that other leaders will buy into, decide on your direction for them and then have a strategic conversation on that subject. Lead an open discussion that allows for their enthusiastic participation. Do not impose your new vision from the top. Through a series of premeditated questions, pilot them to your conclusions. Such collaboration ensures that the leaders will own and support the decisions you select for them. Learn to identify those internally influential people relevant to your objectives and appeal to them. “Beware of becoming so intoxicated by your own vision that you fail to see clearly the reservations that members of your organization may have about pursuing that vision enthusiastically.”
  2. How to Integrate and Make Stars a Team: Your job as the leader is to make sure that all the members of your organization understand that they have common values, shared history, and collective interests. Focus on communication. Demonstrate both by word and by deed that you put the interests of the organization above your own. Understand the nature of the cultural differences that may divide your organization’s leaders and then seek to find ways to bridge any gaps. “Deal directly with other leaders who are spoilers by converting them or isolating them.”
  3. How to Mediate and Settle Leadership Conflicts: The more autonomous the other leaders are, the greater the odds of conflict over turf, power, style, and goals. A leader must intervene and mediate when other leaders come to disagreement. When conflicts arise, read between the lines. Observe the adversaries’ interactions, and find ways to improve communication. Look beyond the conflicting parties’ stated positions; probe for deeper interests. Work as a bridge, and find areas of agreement that can resolve the conflict. Consider how you could apply the six mediation power tools (incentives, coercion, expertise, legitimacy, reference, and coalition) most effectively to resolve conflicts. “A mediator, unlike an arbitrator or judge, has no power to impose a solution.”
  4. How to Educate People Who Think They are Already Educated: Approach your teaching role tactfully. Leaders tend to be proud and sensitive—they may begrudge being treated as unqualified, unskilled, or inexperienced. Before you instruct them, make sure you understand their frame of reference. To the maximum extent possible, do your educating one-on-one, rather than in groups. Actively involve and invite their contributions. The command and control method of instructing them will be ineffective. Instead, use the Socratic Method—ask questions that encourage people to discover the truth for themselves. “In leading leaders, the most effective instrument is not an order but the right question.”
  5. Tact and Diplomacy Matter More When Leading Other Powerful Leaders How to Motivate and Persuade Other Leaders: Learn as much as you can about other leaders—their backgrounds, interests, and their goals. Design the specific, personalized incentives that will accord with their interests—only individualized incentives persuade people to act in desired ways. Agree on future goals for the short term, medium term, and long term, and show how those goals relate to those of your organization. Be open and transparent with information so everyone knows where they are and where they are going. “Motivate your followers by envisioning a future that will benefit them and communicating that future to them in a convincing way.”
  6. How to Represent Your Organization to the Outside World: As a leader, you are always on the stage. Everything you do will be subject to scrutiny. Your every action and statement, whether in public or in private, can affect your organization’s relationships with the outside world—customers, competitors, regulators, media, investors, and the public in general. Actively manage their perceptions and expectations. If those interests are dysfunctional or unworkable, seek to change or transform them through one-on-one diplomacy. “One of the most important functions that leadership representation serves is the acquisition of needed resources.”
  7. How to Create Trust to Get the Most out of Your Leadership: People will trust you not because of your appeal, charm, or foresight, but because they’ve decided that aligning with your leadership will move their interests forward. Understand the people you lead and know their interests. Manage their expectations and deliver what you’ve promised. Reinforce your communications during problems and crises. Be consistent and predictable in your actions. “Openness is not just an easy smile or a charming manner; it refers to the process by which you make decisions that have implications for your followers’ interests.”

Tact and Diplomacy Matter More When Leading Other Powerful Leaders

Recommendation: Read Jeswald W. Salacuse’s Leading Leaders. This excellent book’s insights make a great template for the basics of executive leadership. You can especially learn how to gain persuasive skills in situations where you may not have much influence.

Beyond the academic pedantry (the author is a professor of law, diplomacy, and negotiation,) the abundant examples from political leadership are far more multifaceted than the narratives in Leading Leaders tend to imply, but they serve as good cases in point.

Leading Leaders offers a matchless resource in documenting what constitutes effective emotional leadership, which is, in spite of everything, all about persuasive power and influence to get things done through people. The key learning point is, “In developing your leadership strategies and tactics, you need to take account of the interests of the persons you would lead. Leading leaders is above all interest-based leadership. Leaders will follow you not because of your position or charisma but because they consider it in their interest. Your job as a leader is to convince them that their interests lie with you.”

Anger is the Hardest of the Negative Emotions to Subdue

Anger is the Hardest of the Negative Emotions to Subdue

The Lekha Sutta, an aphorism of the historical Buddha that has been preserved orally by his followers, identifies three distinct ways that anger manifests in individuals:

  • Firstly, the Buddha refers to the individual who is like an inscription on a rock. His anger stays with him for a long time; it does not war away by wind or water.
  • Secondly, the Buddha relates an individual who is habitually angered, but whose anger does not stay with him for a elongated time, to an inscription in soil that rubs away by wind or water.
  • Finally, the Buddha identifies an individual who is like water. When he is spoken to or treated rudely, he stays impervious, pleasant, and courteous—in the vein of an inscription in water that disappears right away.

Here’s a translation of the Lekha Sutta from the Pali by the eminent American Buddhist monk and prolific author Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

Monks, there are these three types of individuals to be found existing in the world. Which three? An individual like an inscription in rock, an individual like an inscription in soil, and an individual like an inscription in water.

And how is an individual like an inscription in rock? There is the case where a certain individual is often angered, and his anger stays with him a long time. Just as an inscription in rock is not quickly effaced by wind or water and lasts a long time, in the same way a certain individual is often angered, and his anger stays with him a long time. This is called an individual like an inscription in rock.

'Dhammapada: A Translation' by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (ISBN B000K6C8NG) And how is an individual like an inscription in soil? There is the case where a certain individual is often angered, but his anger doesn’t stay with him a long time. Just as an inscription in soil is quickly effaced by wind or water and doesn’t last a long time, in the same way a certain individual is often angered, but his anger doesn’t stay with him a long time. This is called an individual like an inscription in soil.

And how is an individual like an inscription in water? There is the case where a certain individual—when spoken to roughly, spoken to harshly, spoken to in an unpleasing way—is nevertheless congenial, companionable, & courteous. Just as an inscription in water immediately disappears and doesn’t last a long time, in the same way a certain individual—when spoken to roughly, spoken to harshly, spoken to in an unpleasing way—is nevertheless congenial, companionable, & courteous. This is called an individual like an inscription in water.

These are the three types of individuals to be found existing in the world.

Idea for Impact: Learn to Corral Your Anger and Manage Your Emotions

Like everything else in the world, anger surfaces and passes away, restoring your previous sense of calm and stillness. Not identifying the nature of anger and allowing it to take over your state of being can lead to disastrous outcomes. Verse 222 of the Dhammapada (tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu) states,

When anger arises,
whoever keeps firm control
as if with a racing chariot:
him
I call a master charioteer.
    Anyone else,
    a rein-holder—
    that’s all.

Anger destroys careers. It destroys relationships. As long as you lack the capacity to withstand negative emotions such as anger, you will be at a marked disadvantage in life.

How to Guard Against Anger Erupting

The Destructive Effects of Anger are Easily Recognized

Most people who have problems managing their anger hate themselves for losing their temper but can’t bring themselves to prevent their flare-ups.

'The Dhammapada: Teachings of the Buddha' by Gil Fronsdal (ISBN 1590306066) Here’s an appropriate reading from Chapter 17, “Anger”, of the Dhammapada (trans. Gil Fronsdal), a profoundly insightful compilation of the historical Buddha‘s teachings:

Guard against anger erupting in your body;
Be restrained with your body.
Letting go of bodily misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your body.

Guard against anger erupting in your speech;
Be restrained with your speech.
Letting go of verbal misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your speech.

Guard against anger erupting in your mind;
Be restrained with your mind.
Letting go of mental misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your mind.

The wise are restrained in body,
Restrained in speech.
The wise are restrained in mind.
They are fully restrained.

Discover Ways to Work with Anger and Other Negative Emotions

In its many forms, anger can be extremely energetic. When even a mild annoyance arises due to some apparent injustice, it can quickly grow and overwhelm you. Your inner peace is lost instantly.

When anger surfaces, it usually takes you over by the time you come to observe it. Your mind gets infuriated under the direct influence of aggression and can tempt you to act impulsively through aggressive words or actions—which consecutively feed even more anger.

The mind’s furor intensifies until you are able to lash out like a cornered cat. Even if you can repress your emotions in the heat of the moment, anger can manifest as a subtle simmering of resentment that you carry along with you for some interval of time.

How to guard against anger erupting in your body, your speech, and your mind

How to Refrain from Erupting in Anger

The most effective way to deal with anger in yourself is by not disregarding or repressing it. Science and experience have shown how poorly “anger containment” strategies work.

When anger rises past a threshold, it requires a reasonable and pleasing expression—an outlet, if you will—to be diffused. The key to expelling anger in a way that must feel good and fair is to invoke your calm, wise self and put out some of the fire of the emotion before moving forward.

To prevent anger from flaring out of control, practice the following first-aid system.

  1. Make a list of what triggers your anger. Most people get angry under predictable circumstances—when faced with situations that they see as unpleasant and unfair. Record events that trigger your anger: being insulted, being blamed unjustly, deceit or laziness in others, anything. Commit them to memory.
  2. When you identify a trigger—when you start to feel angry at someone or at something—induce yourself to immediately take a few deep breaths. As the Founding Father and President Thomas Jefferson suggested, “when angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” Preferably, break away from the situation for a minute or two: step away, go get water, or go the bathroom. Removing yourself from the offending environment will buy you a few moments to decide how you want to respond.
  3. When you can separate yourself from the cause of anger, take a deep breath, and ask yourself if whatever you’re getting worked up over is a priority. Is the issue worth getting upset over? Put your irate-self wise by posing the following “5-5-5” questions:
    • Will this matter in 5 days?
    • Will this matter in 5 months?
    • Will this matter in 5 years?

The “5-5-5” questions will prevent you from being caught up in the little trivialities of life. Remind yourself how good you’ll feel if you respond as your best, wise self and how bad you’ll feel if you rashly fly off the handle.

Only when you’re feeling less agitated and more calm, only when your sensible mind is back, can you assess the triggers of anger rationally, and take action in an prudent way.

Idea for Impact: Guard Against Anger Erupting in Your Body, Your Speech, and Your Mind

The antidote to anger and aggression is patience. Patience has a great deal to do with being mindful about the storms of distress and refraining from doing or saying anything, no matter how strong the urge to do so may be. Reflect before you respond.

The more you can manage your emotions, the more effective you’ll be.

Become a Smart, Restrained Communicator Like Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, America’s founding father, statesman, and polymath, was a doyen of the self-improvement movement. His methods for self-mastery are worth taking a serious look at if you’re interested in getting better at anything in life.

In his wonderful Autobiography (1791,) Franklin discusses his once-foolish delight in spinning artful arguments and doggedly winning over his opponents.

Winning an Argument Aggressively is but a Short-term Ego Victory

'The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin' by Benjamin Franklin (ISBN 1492720941) As a young man, Franklin had a habit of fervently arguing his case in all matters and alienating people around him. He frequently ensnared his challengers with hard-hitting rhetoric:

I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took a delight in it, practis’d it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.

However, Franklin ultimately recognized that his take-no-prisoners approach of arguing was by no means endearing him to other people. His realized that his brash way of outwitting his challengers had been self-defeating.

Benjamin Franklin, Doyen of the Self-improvement Movement

Arguing, if it is to Be Constructive, Must Be Done Tactfully

In an attempt to develop amenable character traits, Franklin radically improved the way he interacted with others. He let go of all expressions of conceit and bold self-confidence. He stopped using words such as “certainly” and “undoubtedly” in his speaking and replaced them with phrases that signified personal opinions—for instance, “It appears to me, or I should think it so or so for such & such Reasons, or I imagine it to be so, or it is so if I am not mistaken.”

I continu’d this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire. [Alexander] Pope says, judiciously:

“Men should be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown propos’d as things forgot;”

farther recommending to us

“To speak, tho’ sure, with seeming diffidence.”

Learn to Resolve Important Issues through Sensible Discourse

'How to Win Friends & Influence People' by Dale Carnegie (ISBN 0671027034) Franklin realized that this measured conversation and gentler interactions was helpful in preventing conflicts and softening resistance in those he wanted to influence. He writes, “This Habit, I believe, has been of great Advantage to life, when I have had occasion to inculcate my Opinions & persuade Men into Measures I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting.”

This rule of skilful conversation and interpersonal relationships later became one of the foundational principles in Dale Carnegie‘s masterful self-help manual How to Win Friends and Influence People—specifically, that our ticket to success in life is the ability to make others feel good about themselves.

Persuasion is Not About Outmaneuvering Others and Proving Them Wrong

The ability to communicate effectively, plead your case, and influence others is one of the most useful skills for succeeding in the modern world.

  • Learn to resolve important issues through sensible and mindful discourse.
  • Be assertive where you must, but never aggressive.
  • Be open-minded, understand the other person’s perspective, and keep your emotions under control.
  • Never insult, disgrace, or cause the other person to lose face.

Views, opinions, and judgments can differ, and these can and should be discussed civilly. However, to debate such differences vigorously so as to cause bad feelings toward is not necessary and is almost always counterproductive.

Idea for Impact: Arguing for the sake of deciding a winner is never constructive. When an argument starts, persuasion stops.

Rapoport’s Rules to Criticize Someone Constructively

'Intuition Pumps' by Daniel Dennett (ISBN 0393082067) In Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, philosopher Daniel Dennett lists Anatol Rapoport‘s rules of constructive argument and debate:

Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent? If there are obvious contradictions in the opponent’s case, then you should point them out, forcefully. If there are somewhat hidden contradictions, you should carefully expose them to view—and then dump on them. But the search for hidden contradictions often crosses the line into nitpicking, sea-lawyering and outright parody. The thrill of the chase and the conviction that your opponent has to be harboring a confusion somewhere encourages uncharitable interpretation, which gives you an easy target to attack. But such easy targets are typically irrelevant to the real issues at stake and simply waste everybody’s time and patience, even if they give amusement to your supporters. The best antidote I know for this tendency to caricature one’s opponent is a list of rules promulgated many years ago by social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport (creator of the winning Tit-for-Tat strategy in Robert Axelrod’s legendary prisoner’s dilemma tournament).

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

One immediate effect of following these rules is that your targets will be a receptive audience for your criticism: you have already shown that you understand their positions as well as they do, and have demonstrated good judgment (you agree with them on some important matters and have even been persuaded by something they said).

This comports with the following sage advice gentle art of criticizing people effectively:

  • “If you disagree with somebody, you want to be able to state their case better than they can. And at that point you’ve earned the right to disagree with them. Otherwise you should keep quiet.”
    Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner (see this article)
  • “The man who can hold forth on every matter under debate in two contradictory ways of pleading, or can argue for and against every proposition that can be laid down—such a man is the true, the complete, and the only orator.”
    —Roman Orator Cicero (see this article)
  • “I have yet to find a more efficient and reliable way to probe the depths of a person’s knowledge and seriousness about an issue than asking them to explain the other side’s perspective.”
    —Entrepreneur Ben Casnocha (see this article)
  • “If you can’t imagine how anyone could hold the view you are attacking, you just don’t understand it yet.”
    —Philosopher Anthony Weston in Rulebook for Arguments (see this article)
  • “When you think you can nail someone with your argument, take a breath & see if you can phrase it as a face-saving question.”
    —Career Coach Marty Nemko