Persuasion Coach News
Here’s another potpourri blog for you all:
Speaking for San Diego’s Project Management Institute
I just landed a video speaking engagement for the San Diego chapter of the Project Management Institute. My chosen topic is Five Top Communication Tips for Project Managers.
I have written about the downsides of videoconferencing, although it is, at present, safer than in-person meetings. The upside is that I can speak to groups anywhere in the world, and this is one example. While speaking about communication skills, I will also use my skills to keep the audience engaged, not losing interest, as so often happens in video conferences. Specifically, I will interrupt my talk about every 10-15 minutes and give the audience some type of participative activity. For example, I might ask them to think of a time when they tried to tell somebody something over and over, but the other person didn’t get it. I will invite them to share, and I will demonstrate how to alter what they tried to say in that past event so that the other person might better understand.
Looking for Options
Here’s an amazing story of survival that came about through the efforts of a person in a desperate situation and the coincidence of a man with a very unusual hobby. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2021/04/22/lost-hiker-satelite-rescue/
Rene Compean became hopelessly lost while hiking off trail in mountains. The day was waning, the temperature dropping, the winds whipping. He really believed he was going to die, but he kept thinking, casting about for anything he might do to help himself. He periodically climbed higher when he could summon the strength, to more visible from the air, using a charred stick from a campfire to write SOS on rocks along the way.
He only had 10% battery life left on his phone. He took two pictures and texted them to a friend. Only one of the pictures got through, the less helpful one, a close shot of his legs beside some rocks. The friend send the picture to the LA County Sheriffs Dept., which in turn, tweeted, asking if local hikers could identify the location.
Amazingly, Ben Kuo, who received the tweet, loved looking for where photos were taken. After narrowing his search to the area near where Compean’s car was spotted, he used satellite images to find the type of rocks in the photo, and so, the approximate location of the lost hiker. From there, a rescue helicopter was able to spot and retrieve Compean.
Compean’s actions might seem far afield from persuasion, consensus building, and related communication skills. In fact, however, the two have a common mindset or approach to problems. In my interactional skill set, we begin with interests, what people ultimately want to achieve. The hiker’s main interest was survival. Thus, a key second interest was getting found.
When our first idea for achieving an interest won’t work for another party, or their first idea for achieving their interest won’t work for us, we look for other options. Compean looked for survival options. Before using up a precious bit of battery life, he looked for other means of communication and found the charred stick. He took time to think about how to use his 10% phone battery life.
Of course, a seemingly miraculous chain of events also happened. Kuo happened to see the sheriff’s tweet, to live so near that he recognized the type of rock, and to have special location-finding skills. But Compean’s text set them in motion. He could use up his remaining battery life, or get prepared to die. So why not try what he could? We see unbelievably awful things happening in the news, why not unbelievably good things, miracles?
Fortunately, you neither must nor should wait until you’re staring death in the face to begin practicing this problem-solving mindset and approach. Begin practicing on small problems, and you will find yourself building more mutually satisfactory consensuses in major consensus seeking endeavors.
Bert the Palm Tree (and his siblings)
Are you wondering about the image for this post? In the great Texas freeze in February, all the big palm tree fronds froze and eventually had to be removed. But, even then, new green growth was shooting up from the centers of the tops of the trees. The result reminded me of Bert the Muppet with his narrow forehead and little tuft of hair sticking up. And if you look carefully, in the bulbous part of the tree, you will see more new fronds already coming out where the old ones were cut. They look like little green hands with more than five fingers.
Another miracle, the miracle of renewal and regrowth.
When have you used problem-solving skills in an unusual way?
Porpoises and People Personalities
In one study, porpoises were tested for the “Big 5” temperament (or personality) traits. Like humans, they rated high on extraversion and openness. Porpoises rated low on agreeableness, as do many people.
The agreeableness trait reflects individual differences in general concern for social harmony. Agreeable individuals… are generally considerate, kind, generous… and willing to compromise their interests with others.
Disagreeable individuals place self-interest above getting along with others. They are generally unconcerned with others’ well-being, and are less likely to extend themselves for other people.[Emphasis mine]
The Myers-Briggs Take
Another approach to temperament, Myers-Briggs, helps us understand when different personality types extend themselves for others. Dr. David Kiersey explains that the most important factor is whether a person tends to think abstractly or concretely.
Abstract thinkers reason–either by logic or by noticing common factors in a number of data–to see the big picture. They think ahead to the future results of something that might happen now and plan accordingly. Abstract thinkers might support preservation of rain forests if they see maps showing how rain forest land has diminished over time. They might get a COVID-19 vaccination when they read about the number of people who have died from the disease.
Concrete thinkers focus on what is happening around them here and now, things they can see, hear and feel. They might donate to a rain forest preservation fund if they see a picture of a cute little animal that’s dying out. They might get vaccinated if they have lost a loved one to COVID19.
Agreeable abstract thinkers are more willing to extend themselves, for the good of all. They might favor a raise in the minimum wage because, when workers earn more, they spend more. It boosts the economy. Agreeable concrete thinkers are more willing to extend themselves when they personally witness an immediate need, for example, if they themselves, or close friends or family can’t afford basic necessities on minimum-wage.
This doesn’t mean abstract thinkers are incapable of thinking concretely, that they are unmoved by something they perceive here and now. Nor does it mean concrete thinkers are incapable of thinking abstractly. These are tendencies, not absolutes, and the strength of the tendencies varies among individuals.
These temperamental tendencies are biologically driven. We are born with them.
Abstract thinkers represent only about 16-25% of the human population. Concrete thinkers represent about 75-84%. This proportion evolved in times in when immediate physical threats were numerous. A majority needed to react to them. A group didn’t need as many abstract thinkers to consider what might happen in the future and plan for it.
However, modern humans less often face immediate dangers like predatory animals or ambushes by neighboring tribes. We face dangers like threats to the environment. They are not yet causing severe, tangible problems for short term thinking individuals, so many remain unwilling to reduce their carbon footprint. If a majority don’t make changes until they are actually feeling the pain, it will probably be too late to save the environment. Likewise, it is difficult to appreciate the need to take precautions about COVID-19 without some abstract thinking.
All this is compounded by disinformation widely dispersed by electronic means. Short term thinkers tend to latch onto memes, tweets and soundbites, rather than to read and think about scientific explanations.
Human technological and sociological evolution has outstripped our biological evolution. We could use a higher proportion of abstract thinkers.
What To Do?
I’d like scientists as well as other abstract thinkers to tailor their communications to grab the attention of concrete thinkers. If I were advising a rain forest preservation group, I’d say place a picture of that cute little endangered animal side by side with maps showing how rain forests have diminished. Include something for both types of thinkers.
A sad example of short term, concrete thinking is the recent removal of all COVID-19 safety requirements by the governors of Texas and Mississippi. The numbers of new infections and deaths has gone down. To an abstract thinker, that says, Masking, distancing and hand washing are working, so continue them. However, many concrete thinkers, a majority of the human population, see improvement as a sign that it’s OK to ease up, or even stop, safety practices. This even though, several times, when numbers decreased, people cut back on precautions, causing a spike in new cases and deaths.
Ironically, the number of deaths is now so high, it isn’t meaningful to the average concrete thinker. One can make this more meaningful by relate it to something known and fathomable. Citing The Washington Post, Poynter Institute journalist Tom Jones wrote: “For example: What if your standard city bus held 51 people? To carry 500,000 passengers, that would require 9,804 buses that would stretch nearly 95 miles. That’s like lining up buses from New York City to Philadelphia. Now imagine all of the passengers dead.”  He gave the concrete thinkers a tangible mental image.
I imagine a public service announcement showing, side by side, a person in a hospital bed on a ventilator and IVs, and another person wearing a mask. Audio/caption: “Better a mask than a ventilator.”
What about Ordinary Individuals?
Tom Jones is a journalist. What can the rest of us do? Figure out whether you tend to think concretely or abstractly. If concretely, try making the effort to follow the reasoning of abstract speakers and writers such as scientists. Just try it for a while, and see if you learn anything helpful.
If you’re an abstract thinker, add tangible examples to your abstract explanations. You, too, will spend a little more time, but you will find the results worthwhile.
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 See Please Understand Me II
First, the Cold
You all know what extraordinary cold we’ve had. Some know that, here on the Gulf coast, with a semi-tropical climate, our suppliers of electricity, water, internet and TV have been overwhelmed. As I write this, I have electricity, and phone (voice only—no texting), but no other way to communicate or get information.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Being an old hand at preparing for hurricanes, I knew to fill up lots of containers with water for drinking, and tooth brushing and fill the bathtub with water to flush toilets. Before the storm, I washed some clothes and dishes.
But the worst of the weather was over before I lost running water, internet, TV and text capability. I’m wondering if having so many services bundled (all but power and water) is worth the cost savings. Should I shift, say, my wireless, internet or TV to another provider?
Please comment below your thoughts about pros and cons of bundling services.
Another lesson: GoogleDocs is very convenient, but with everything saved on a cloud, rather than on my computer, I can’t access my book in progress (or anything else) to continue drafting.
There’s Also Warm News
First, last Friday I participated in a virtual job preparedness seminar for at risk high school students. My topic was “Get More of What You Need on the Job—without Arguing.” Attendance was low because we presented virtually, rather than in person. I’ve since heard from people who have only virtual meetings these days that attention wanes fast, even in a meeting that’s important to their job success. So, I am all the more gratified by the number of kids who attended my sessions and stuck with me.
Second, I came across a great quote for what we’re going through here with the weather and the pandemic: “Patience is also a form of action.” – Auguste Rodin. Here’s a little mental and emotional health exercise: Make a list of times when patience has paid off for you. And how can you make ongoing patience work in your favor?
Third, I recommend a book I’ve been reading: Write Your Life by Jessica Coleman. It takes a unique approach to establishing goals that will get you what you really want from life, then, figuring out how to reach them. The method uses the things writers do when planning a fictional story.
When I did the first exercise about what I really want, I didn’t come up with many new aspirations. However, simply taking the time to reduce them to writing inspired ideas for things I can do to achieve them. I had fun developing a character profile of myself, just as I would if writing about a character for a novel. In between exercises, Coleman provides plenty of encouraging advice about how you can achieve your goals, including her own inspiring experience overcoming severe obstacles.
Well my dear readers I’ve got this all typed out (by hand because, with WIFI out, I can’t dictate). I’ll post it when service is back up.
Whether you found this post interesting, helpful or just entertaining, please share it. I am especially eager to add to my blog readership as I prepare my new book.
Till next time.
In Part IIIA of this series, you learned about healthy news quantity. Now let’s make the substance or quality of your news healthier.
Reduce Emotional Stimulation
Do you think the reporters on PBS, BBC and BBCA are dull or boring? Well guess what? That’s what professional, ethical news reporting looks like. A while back, I posted a series on how to recognize proper reporting standards. I suggest you read or reread these posts:
I described how a reporter apologized for having shown his emotions when witnessing the Hindenburg passenger airship burst into flames, killing all on board. He apologized because he knew that his proper duty was to deliver information without showing emotion or suggesting opinions.
The more a news source engages your emotions–especially fear, anger and hate–the more likely that it’s not objective reporting and it’s not healthy for you.
Yellow and Red Alerts
Anyone will feel emotions if they see a riot or people on the roofs of flooded houses. But if you feel emotions when taking in news unrelated to disasters or emergencies, pause and ask yourself how much emotion comes from the images and how much from the tone and/or the words of the journalist. If it’s coming from the journalist, that’s a bad sign, a yellow alert.
If the journalists or the organization they work for make overt attempts to convince you that they are the fair ones, and that other news outlets are deceiving you, that’s a red alert.
What if two school boys, Joe and Mike, get into a tussle at recess. A teacher stops them and says, “You’re both getting detention.” Joe, “Mike started it.” Mike, “No, I was just defending myself.” Joe, “Mike’s a liar. I always tell the truth.”
Suppose the teacher replies, “Oh, thank you, Joe, for explaining that. You go on and play. Mike you get detention.” What would you think of that teacher? That’s what you should think of the news outlet that feels they have to work at convincing you that they are truthful.
More Red Alerts
These pertain to news about or interviews with politicians, appointed government personnel, and candidates, as opposed to, for example, actors or other entertainers.
- Are the reporter’s criticisms of some politicians and office holders trivial, for example: “He’s too old” “Her clothes are too loud”? That’s a sign that they want to prejudice you against that person, but can’t come up with anything substantial to criticize.
- Does an interviewer never challenge certain individuals but constantly challenge others?
- Too many leading, “yes” or “no”, questions in interviews–red alert. Responsible journalist ask open, “How…?” “Why…?” “What about…?”, questions that require the interview subject to elaborate. The worst leading question I ever heard suggested the answer, “Don’t you think (competing TV channel) is prejudiced against you because…?
The Role of Sensory Stimulation
Even when reporters remain calm and objective, TV news, by its very nature, engages you emotionally because it stimulates more of your senses. You see video. You hear audio, not only human voices, but things like sirens or fierce winds.
Neurosurgeon-turned-author Dr. Bernard Patten, in his upcoming book, Making Mental Might, discourages TV viewing. In fact, he reports that our brains are actually less active while watching TV than while sleeping. So not only does TV news stimulate the sensory and emotional parts of our brains, rather than the thinking parts. TV actually turns down the thinking brain.
Why and How to Read, Rather than Watch—Efficiently
If you learn (absorb information) well by reading (not everyone does), that’s the best way to quiet emotions and engage the rational, reasoning, thinking part of your brain. After a days work, that cushy sofa looks so inviting, and it’s so easy to just flop and switch on the TV news. But you can be just as comfortable on the sofa with a newspaper.
As for TV, it only takes a tiny bit of time to find the same report you might watch on TV (or online) in print. Simply go to the program on the news source’s website. Don’t start the video playing, or pause if it started automatically. Scroll down to read a text version. If you don’t find text after the video, look around the top and sides of the item for a “Transcript” button.
If you don’t read well, can’t find a text version of a program, or for any other reason, feel compelled to watch TV news, you can still reduce sensory stimulation. Turn down the volume. If you learn well by listening, shut your eyes or put on a sleep mask.
Or, choose those calm, unemotional (that is, ethical and professional) reporters on PBS, BBC (online) or BBCA (cable).
On the other hand, if the news you want only appears in print, but you don’t learn well by reading, it might help to read it aloud or pronounce the words in your head.
Still, there may be something to be said for a limited amount of TV news viewing. If I had simply read about the riot at the US Capitol, I would not have grasped the mood and atmosphere of the mob, and thus, the seriousness and full implications of the situation had I not seen a limited amount of video.
Consider the Source
Twenty-four hour news cable channels have to fill every hour with something related to news. They fill lots of time with things other than straight news reports–opinion pieces, news commentary, interviews and talk shows.
The major networks, CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS carry many other types of programs. They can only spend a small percentage of air time on news, so they are more likely to stick to actual reporting.
Additionally, major networks want viewers who watch their news to stay with them for other types of programs. Therefore, they tend to avoid extremism. You will sometimes hear them show your favorite politician in a good light, and you will sometimes hear them show that politician’s warts. That’s a good sign.
If they never report anything negative about your pets, or simply don’t report their foibles at all, and if they never report anything positive about people you have been taught to fear and hate, that is a very big, very bad red alert. This applies to print media as well.
Another “source factor” is that commercial, for-profit, companies have to think about income, for themselves and their advertisers. Unfortunately, “news” that gears up peoples’ emotions has become popular and pulls in the money. The non-commercial networks, PBS and BBC, don’t have to work so hard at pulling in money because they are funded by other means. They can afford to keep their reporters calm and professional.
Axios provides succinct news on a user friendly website and via newsletters. Check out their Bill or Rights, a great example of good reporting standards.
My primary source of national news is The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. They focus on resources for journalists including news others might like to write about. They offer courses in ethics and fact-finding.
There’s plenty of news on their homepage. They also have e-newsletters. I subscribe to three.
Tom Jones’ Poynter Report is primarily directed toward journalists. I can scroll past passages about the news industry if I’m not interested. When there is major news, The Poynter Report summarizes how various other news outlets are covering it. I learn a lot very efficiently. To subscribe, go here.
Angie Holan’s Politifact newsletter comes from a Pulitzer Prize winning arm of Poynter. Holan doesn’t just rate things true or false. Ratings range from true, mostly true… to pants-on-fire. Plus, she always backs up the rating with explanation. Subscribe here.
In his Covering COVID19 newsletter, Al Tompkins reports not only on the disease itself, but also on ramifications, such as effects on various industries. Subscribe here.
Our local CBS affiliate, KHOU, has a feature called “Verify,” which fact checks rumors. You can read it online no matter where you live. Click “Verify” in the menu at the top of their home page.
I urge you all to begin trying the above tips to make your news consumption healthier. Please report the results to me. This can help me improve all the advice I give.
As always, please forward this to others who might be interested.
See you next time!
I have cut and pasted the most relevant parts of a notice I received about what to do if you observe, or experience, suspicious activity at the polls–activity that appears aimed at keeping people from voting or intimidating them. The hotline numbers are for Texas. I advise those in other states to look online for similar resources.
In case anyone is thinking they would rather not let certain demographic groups vote, just remember, if we tolerate such tactics as late poll opening or intimidation toward one group, we set a precedent. This would allow, or at least encourage, people to do the same to any demographic group. Sometime, someplace, that targeted group could be yours. The only way to be sure you and your descendants can vote is to make sure every eligible voter who wants to vote gets to vote.
Every eligible voter deserves to exercise their right to vote fairly. Together, Texans can work to protect, advance, and defend the right to vote.
Voters like you are the eyes and ears we need at polling locations to report incidents and ensure that every eligible Texan can vote.
During the 2018 Texas midterm election, incidents reported to the Election Protection Coalition affected over 250,000 Texas voters. These issues ranged from late poll openings to voter intimidation.
The Election Protection hotlines staffed by volunteer attorneys are:
866-OUR-VOTE – English or 866-687-8683
888-Ve-Y-Vota – Spanish and English or 888-839-8682
888-API-VOTE – Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Bengali also known as Bangla, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, Tagalog and English or 888-274-8683
844-Yalla-US – Arabic and English or 844-925-5287
301-818-8683 – Video ASL or 301-818-8683
888-796-8683 – Disability Rights Texas 888-796-8683
I’m sure no one deliberately sets out to shrink their brain. If anything, most of us want to grow mentally–learn new things, open our minds to different points of view. But did you know that complaining can shrink and rewire your brain, harm your health, and attract more of the very things you complain about into your life?
You can find many articles taking off from a Stanford U. study indicating that stating, writing, or even hearing complaints “actually shrinks the hippocampus–an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s. [“How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity” by Travis Bradberry.] This particularly concerns me because problem solving and intelligent thinking are inexorably involved in the consensus building and communication skills I teach.
In addition, nerves that fire together wire together. As Bradberry puts it, “Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future…” You notice more and more negative things to complain about and fail to notice positive ways to improve your life and reach creative solutions to disagreements and other problems.
This supports my long-held belief that people are actually becoming biologically addicted to emotionally charged 24 hr. “news” and to repetively preaching complaints to their political choirs, and “Amen-ing” others–on social media, via email, around water coolers, at lunch, anywhere they can find a like-minded audience. It’s another science-based explanation for why the flip side of the Law of Attraction is for real: we actually attract more of the things we focus on and give our attention to, even if they are the very things we deplore and would like to eliminate. As I explained in “Desktop Optimism,” pessimists walk right past money and business contacts that optimists notice and take advantage of.
And of course, directly complaining to someone we want to influence to change, making them wrong, actually causes them to dig deeper into the positions we disagree with. See “People Resist Being Wrong.”
Finally, if all this brain damage, all the complained-about things we attract more of, aren’t enough to inspire us to focus on what we do want, rather than on what we don’t, Bradberry states that complaining releases the stress hormone cortisol that prepares one for flight or fight, and thus, raises blood pressure and blood sugar. All the time we spend on redundant news or Facebook rants is time spent with sustained high blood pressure and blood sugar that is only designed for dealing with emergencies.
But how does one go about breaking a habit, especially if the habit has become biologically supported? Don’t think of a hippopotamus. What just popped into your mind? A hippo, right? Your brain’s auto-pilot doesn’t hear the “don’t.” Telling yourself not to… doesn’t work very well, It can even reinforce the habit you wish to break. Here are some more effective alternatives:
- Set up a reminder system for noticing positive things. You can put three rubber bands around your left wrist in the morning. Every time you notice, reflect on, or comment on something positive, move a rubber band to your right wrist. Try to move all three rubber bands by lunchtime. In the afternoon, try to move all the rubber bands back to your left wrist. When you get home at night, try to move the rubber bands to the right one more time. Whenever you move a rubber band, take a moment to enjoy feeling good about the positive thing you have just noticed. If rubber bands don’t appeal to you, put three peppermints in your pocket or on your desk and eat one for each positive, replacing the peppermints every time you have eaten them all up.
- It also helps to keep in your mental hip pocket a positive image or memory, something you are grateful for. It can be a memory of a beautiful outdoor scene you visited. It could be an actual picture of a child or grandchild in your actual pocket or on your actual phone. Anything that helps you feel calm, serene, and joyful. Next, think of a positive trigger word you associate with the image, such as “peace” for the scene or “love” for the child. Then, whenever you catch yourself about to complain, especially if you’ve said it before and/or you know your listener already agrees, mentally say your trigger word, then, call up your mental scene or look at your picture. Think of a positive comment or question, or simply remain silent.
- Before turning in for the night, think back on any times during the day when you complained. Rewrite those scenes, imagining yourself making positive statements instead.
- Every day, write down at least five things you’re grateful for.
- Consider limiting contact with people who simply won’t, or can’t, stop complaining about things you’ve heard before.
As you practice one or more of the above remedies, make a note every evening about how you are feeling in general. Are you happier or calmer than before? Have you found yourself noticing more positive things in your life, things you can use to make life even better? The things you used to complain about–have they been getting worse, staying about the same, or getting better? If you are like me, you’ll find that things have been getting better. And that includes my efforts to improve the very things I used to complain about.
As before, my blog is included within the site. So if you’re reading this blog post, you are on the site. You can use the menu buttons in the purple and white headers above to navigate to other pages of the site.
I suggest you start at “Home”. For your convenience, we’ve got more on the Home page now, so be sure to scroll all the way down. Then, please visit other pages such as “Live Training,” “Consulting,” and “Margaret’s Books.”
All previous blog posts have been migrated to the new site, so you can still go back to reread favorites or catch up on any you might have missed. Take advantage of the site’s own internal search function (upper right) to help you find them, or to find additional posts on similar subjects.
We’ve established different categories of posts so you can narrow down your search. The “News” menu button will take you to announcements, like this very announcement of the new site, and to recent, current and upcoming events, such as my classes and speaking engagements. The “Blog” menu button takes you to posts featuring true stories about persuasion success, tips, excerpts from my books, and more.
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Margaret presented a 50 min. workshop on “Getting comfortable with Negotiation” for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, Gulf Coast Section, Women in Energy Congress, Jan. 18, 2019.
Getting Comfortable with Negotiation, Abstract: What if reaching agreement didn’t have to have to mean haggling and compromise? Imagine not guessing how much to exaggerate an opening position, or how much the other person exaggerated hers. Imagine not taking positions on a number line, then, trying to drag each other closer to the middle. Margaret Anderson calls haggling “number line tug-of-war.” Instead of a win-win, it often ends in a lose-lose. But when you learn how to get off that number line and into a completely different paradigm, you’ll see what a true win-win looks like and how to achieve it—at work and far beyond.
Margaret presented “Greed, Envy and Consensus Building” for Houston Focus on Concerns for Women on March 28, 2018.
This short presentation is one of Margaret’s favorites, using prehistoric characters Lucy, Ethel, Larry, Curly and Moe to illustrate why humans evolved greed and envy, and why they often backfire on us in modern times.