Persuasion Coach News

News: Author Interview

Maureen Wahu interviewed me about Women Can Renew the World If…and So Can You on her blog  It’s a New Day! Maureen is one of few book bloggers who specialize in non-fiction. She asked some great questions. Answering them gave me an opportunity to comment on some of the things readers might ask.

With permission, I am pasting the entire interview below:

Congratulations on publishing your book. Do you consider this book a supplement to what you teach or can a person teach themselves using this book?

 

Thanks for asking. This book contains two different kinds of teaching.

 

The first part of the title, “Women Can Renew the World If…” pertains to the first kind or teaching. To your question, this is new material that I haven’t taught before or covered in my previous books. One can only learn it from the book or from me.

 

This first kind of teaching explains why women can renew the world if they achieve more equal status, visibility and credibility with men. Many women naturally practice or easily learn productive discussion skills. By modeling these skills for others, they can renew the world. They can replace polarization and combative dynamics with mutually satisfying conversations.

 

Some men and trans also naturally take to these skills. I have taught them and seen their successes. However, thinking in terms of significant numbers, the fastest way to get lots of people modeling the skills and renewing the world is to improve the status of women.

 

I extensively cover two factors that hold women back from achieving equal status: (1) subconscious bias against women, and (2) sexual harassment and abuse. Readers become well-equipped with the information to discuss these factors.

 

An example of subconscious bias: Would you want your son to grow up in a world where our species is referred to as “womankind”; “he” Is the generic pronoun for a person of unknown gender; and much more?

 

An example about harassment: Some women engineers have been forced to quit their jobs because men started false rumors that these women were planning to file EEOC complaints. The regulations designed to protect them were weaponized and turned against them.

 

The second kind of teaching presented in this text is suggested by the second half of the title, “and So Can You.” The book teaches the productive communication skills that many women take to, but anyone can learn and use.

 

So readers acquire both the information and the skill to productively discuss factors that suppress women. Plus they can also use and model the skills with respect to any other sensitive issue, thus helping to renew the world.

 

One can definitely learn skills from the book alone, through the how-to exercises and skills practice plans. However, people acquire true mastery through hands-on training, either before or after reading the book.

 

What are some of the ways we unknowingly turn a peaceful conversation into an argument?

 

By following knee-jerk impulses. Productive discussion skills are counterintuitive. They run contrary to instincts hardwired into the human brain in prehistoric times, instincts that don’t always serve us well nowadays.

 

Let’s say that Jeff expresses an opinion different from Helen’s opinion on a sensitive issue like economics, politics or sexual harassment. In a fraction of a second, Helen’s brain reads Jeff’s statement as a threat because humans instinctively resist being wrong. Her instinct is to fight, flee or freeze. Most likely, she fights, by arguing with Jeff. Now his brain senses a threat, and he escalates the argument back at Helen.

 

In short, the best way to start an argument is to start arguing. And the best way to escalate an argument is to argue back.

 

However, that doesn’t mean that, when someone challenges us, we just sit there and take it. Rather, we use skills that tend to de-escalate an argument, such as paraphrasing, asking open (not yes-or-no) questions, limiting use of the word “but,” time outs, and more.

 

Are good communicators naturally confident or does the confidence come after mastery of the skill?

 

For most people, confidence increases with practice, preferably beginning with simple situations that are not emotional hot buttons for them.

 

Again, bear in mind that the skills are counterintuitive. Thus, even one who knows the skills well should periodically practice in order to maintain skill and confidence. It’s sort of like baseball players practicing in a batting cage during the winter.

 

Is it ever too early to start learning persuasion skills?

 

No. On the contrary, it’s best to learn the skills before you find yourself in a sensitive situation.

 

Are there people who shouldn’t be equipped with persuasion skills?

 

Another knee-jerk instinct is to imagine that skills that persuade people must take advantage of people. Some might fear that others could use their skills against them.

 

The most effective persuasion skills, however, are grounded in understanding the other person’s perspective. What are their concerns? Then, try to come up with ways to address their concerns, while continuing to seek satisfaction of your own concerns as well.

 

Let’s say someone wants to convince me that Me Too whistleblowers are liars. Would I prefer that they yell at me and try to bully me? Of course not. I would prefer that they try to learn about my concerns and address them. I want others to use my skills with me.

 

What are some of the challenges of being a persuasion coach?

 

As The Persuasion Coach, I find that trainees get stuck on the specifics of an example, let’s say one in which a couple resolve their differences about where to go on vacation by agreeing to a Canada Rail tour of British Columbia. I hear “but what if’s” from the trainees. “But what if she can’t afford to go to Canada?” “But what if he gets motion sickness on trains?” I must continually remind them that the lesson is not about what to say or where to go on vacation, but rather, about how to figure out what to say and where to go.

 

Another challenge is that people tend to wait until the last moment to consult me when faced with a serious problem. They’re stressed out, which is not the best frame of mind for learning. I can help them. However, being a bit of a perfectionist, I imagine how much more I could have done if the client had been more relaxed, and we had had more time.

 

The ideal solution to our problems is one where neither party has to give up anything. Is it realistic to try and solve most of our problems without compromise?

 

Absolutely. If you approach the situation by seeking mutual satisfaction, you stimulate creative thinking. With a positive outlook, you are more likely to notice possible avenues to success. Then, even if you only get partial satisfaction, you’ll still find that you got more satisfaction than if you had started the conversation with a limited mindset.

 

I read of a study in which people seeking a new job were instructed to walk down a sidewalk and into a coffee house. Self-described optimists noticed a $20 bill the researchers had placed on the sidewalk and a person in the coffee house who would be good to network with. The pessimists didn’t notice the money or the person.

 

Is it right to exclude difficult people from important discussions?

 

So much depends on the details. How is the person difficult? By monopolizing the conversation? By finding fault with everything others suggest? Shouting or using obscene or abusive language?

 

What about relationships? Do the people all work in the same company, belong to the same organization, belong to the same family or live in the same neighborhood? Then bear in mind that you are bound to encounter this person in the future, and consider how being excluded from a conversation might affect necessary interactions between you in the future.

 

What is the nature of the conversation? Is it a meeting to make a decision that will affect everyone, including the difficult person? Or is it just a casual conversation?

 

Generally, it’s best to keep the difficult person involved in the discussion if you can. That’s where productive discussion skills can help. People are often amazed at how well the skills work once they learn them.

 

While planning a class for a corporate working group, my contact person warned me of an individual who would try to monopolize, and that I needed to keep a lid on her.

 

In class, all I did was paraphrase the “difficult” lady’s comments. She would reply, “Yes!” as if she were amazed and relieved that someone listened to her and understood what she said. Then she had no motivation to keep trying again and again to make her point (which is what she did when other team members had tried to “keep a lid on” her).

 

Their approach had been driving the very behavior to which they objected. At the end of the class, my contact person complimented me on how well I “handled” her.

 

There are situations in which a person should be excluded, for example, if the person becomes violent. In other situations, one party might have a legitimate need for privacy, for example, they wish to report sexual assault.

 

What are some daily practices that can enhance the way we communicate with others?

 

I think it’s fun, after watching a TV show or reading a story, to imagine how the characters might have communicated better with productive discussion skills. Think of fictional stories as your batting cage.

 

A lot of people go on social media and make inflammatory posts that end up polarizing others, do you have any social media accounts and how do you engage with such people?

 

Yes, I have some social media accounts, but I do not engage with inflammatory posts at all. It never does any good. It always makes matters worse.

 

That’s because, as mentioned above, people are hardwired to resist being wrong. The more inflammatory a statement you disagree with, the more you resist, don’t you? Well, it works the other way round too. The other person will resist your contrary ideas all the more if you express them on social media.

 

Many people were outraged when news broke that Facebook algorithms had been designed to detect what type of posts make you angry and send you more similar posts. The same thing can happen on YouTube. If you have been watching political diatribes, YouTube will show you more videos on the same side of the same subject in the right hand column. (Facebook has since tried to change such use of algorithms.)

 

In the How To section at the end of Chapter 1, I emphasize the importance of having real conversations for any complicated or touchy topic. Here’s a list of means of communication from the most effective to the least effective:

  1. In person conversation
  2. Virtual conversation
  3. Phone conversation
  4. Letter or email
  5. Text message
  6. Social media

 

Social media is not only ineffective in discussing politics, social issues and the like, it is counterproductive. It makes both parties to an interchange dig their heels deeper into their own opinions. It gives a person a sense of semi-anonymity they would not have in a real conversation, so they let down their inhibitions and good manners. They feel safe to get nasty.

 

Just don’t go there.

 

Thanks so much for this interview!
If readers have further questions, they can submit them on the contact page of my website, http://www.persuasioncoach.com.

Speaking Aug. 14

On August 14, I will speak from my latest book, Women Can Renew the World IF…and So Can You at the Sunday service of the Unitarian Fellowship of Houston, beginning at 11 AM. 1504 Wirt Road, Houston, TX 77055. Visitors are welcome.

New Book Published!

At long last, my “pandemic project” is complete. The new book, Women Can Renew the World If… and So Can You is published and available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09YRH6QTX/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Brief Description

Many women naturally practice, or easily learn, skills for productively discussing touchy topics such as sexual harassment. Women can model these skills for others. Women can renew the world If  they have improved status and visibility. You, too, can learn these skills and use them to offset factors, such as implicit bias and workplace abuse, that suppress women themselves as well as their best gifts to society. You, too, can model the skills for others and apply them to touchy topics, from serious social issues to your neighbor’s naughty dog. You, too, can help renew the world. Best of all—it’s easier than you think.

Praise for Women Can Renew the World If… and So Can You

Women Can Renew the World If… is very much needed in today’s world. Margaret Anderson, takes complicated gender dynamics and breaks them down into easily understandable terms, using relatable examples, case studies, and dialogues to illustrate her points. People of all genders and all backgrounds can learn how they can help women to renew the world.”

– Jessica Coleman, self-development educator and author

How-To’s

Many people learn best from material that includes practical examples. Each chapter of the book includes a “How To” section containing one or more examples, some taken from real life. The How To sections also include exercises that allow you to practice world-renewing productive discussion skills in small doses, beginning with simple topics that are not highly controversial and building up to touchier topics, such as workplace abuse.

The last chapter provides organized self-study plans. Work through these plans, and you are on your way to productive discussions that can change your life as they changed mine.

I gratefully acknowledge people whose real life words or actions provided me with good examples:

  • Hara Estroff Marano
  • Sec. St. Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • Rebecca Heiss, PhD
  • The Rev. Dan Furmansky
  • Pres. George W. Bush
  • The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Angie Drobnic Holan
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Sir Ian McKellen, CH CBE
  • Pres. Barack Obama

The Road to Women Can Renew the World If… and So Can You

Almost from the time that I reinvented myself as The Persuasion Coach, I have longed to write about this topic. I decided to first publish some other books to build my reputation and readership. Those books are Bridges to Consensus and Love on the Rocks with a Twist–Delightful Fiction with Lessons on Dealing with Others. A number of years ago, I also began blogging for the same purpose. I have been encouraged by the reception of these earlier works.

I had started this book before 2020, but was sort of picking away at it in small sessions and not nearly every day. There always seemed to be so many other things to do. During the pandemic, I have stayed home as much as possible. I didn’t mind this as much as a lot of people because it gave me the time to work steadily on my book for the last 2+ years. Also, having this project, so close to my heart and part of a long range plan, helped keep me sane, healthy and relatively content while staying home so much.

The manuscript was basically complete many months ago, but that is never the end of the story of producing a book. My next step was to get other writers to critique the book. Their feedback was immensely helpful and helped me improve my work.

Over the next several months, I worked with Artist John Bockelman, who created the eye-catching cover, and with Jay Jackson to design a beautiful interior and put it into the right format for publication. 

What’s Next

I am currently studying and assessing different ways of marketing and promoting this book to find the ones that work best for me and will give me the most for my investment. I hope to draw speaking engagements and interviews.

Meanwhile, I’m looking into what would be involved in making an audiobook. If I do, that would probably take quite a few months to actually accomplish. So if you learn well by reading, I suggest you get the print or Kindle edition currently available. These editions also make it easier for you to do the How To exercises even if I eventually make an audiobook. A great learning technique would be to read and work through the print or Kindle book, then, listen to an audiobook to reinforce what you’ve read.

Reviews and Other Feedback

As you know, I always like feedback, and I want it for Women Can Renew the World If… and So Can You. Amazon reviews are especially helpful, for many reasons. And they don’t have to be great five star reviews. Every review helps. Feedback sent directly to me is also welcome.

I am so looking forward to learning how you like my latest work!

Speaking Gig, Bert the Palm Tree & More

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?

Personality, Porpoises and People

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][1]

Sad.

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.

Evolutionary Imbalance?

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.” [3] 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.

_____________

[1] Click here

[2] See Please Understand Me II

[3] https://www.poynter.org/reporting-editing/2021/a-half-million-covid-deaths-trying-to-wrap-our-brains-around-a-horrific-number/

Cold & Warm

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.

Part IIIB, Lessons from the Capitol, Healthy News Substance

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:

  1. https://persuasioncoach.com/2017/08/red-flags-in-news-reports/;
  2.  https://persuasioncoach.com/2017/08/keep-a-wide-angle-lens-on-the-news/
  3.  https://persuasioncoach.com/2017/09/keeping-up-with-news-while-staying-sane/

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.

Recommended Sources

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.

In Closing

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!

Voter Protection Info to Take with You to the Polls

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

Thanks!

People Say….

Thank you. It was a pleasure attending your class. It taught me to ask “Why?” when I am trying to resolve an issue. I learned a lot and am happy I had… Read more
Lee DudinskyRegistered investment adviser, Advanced Chartered Benefit Consultant

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