The response to an inane remark

Having been in consulting for over thirty years before I retired, clients would on occasion say things that were not the most vetted of ideas. Sometimes the ideas would be too costly, sometimes too administratively burdensome, sometimes too hard to communicate and sometimes the idea may be stretching or breaking the law.

I had a colleague who had a disarming way of digging deeper, putting the onus on himself. This would prevent the client from being too offended by questioning. They may not be right, but they are still the client. My colleague would say “Help me understand….” as he asked why the client thought this was a good idea.

I mention this today as people have been writing about how to push back on people who are parroting untruthful information or conspiracy stories. Depending on the audience, one action is to simply vote with your feet and walk away. Or some version of “I do not believe that to be true” might suffice. Yet, those do not qualify as good rebuttal.

If you choose to rebut, you must get into a dialogue. This is the reason for my recent post on the Chicago song of that name. You do not want a shouting match, if you want to get heard. So, take my friend’s suggestion as a lead in – “Help me understand.” This will allow further conversation to delve further without being too offensive. Remember, people just want to be heard. So, hear them out and maybe they will do the same. This is how Daryl Davis talked over 200 members of the KKK into quitting.

Our blogging friend Clay used as an example yesterday about the North Carolina man who went to jail for four years for believing the conspiracy story that Hillary Clinton was running a child pornography ring from a pizza parlor in Washington, DC and acting on it, by storming the place armed with a weapon. Clinton is not perfect and has been made out to be a bogeyman, but really, a child pornography ring?

If he told a friend this plan in advance, the friend might have said, “help me understand…” and saved this person from himself. After hearing the story, a few simple questions may have diffused the situation. The friend could have said something like “I don’t like her either, but c’mon, a child pornography ring? There is no way that can be true.”

I am not naive to think that this will solve our problems and it may be less effective with the most strident. Yet, if Davis can get KKK members to shed their robes, then it must have some validity. One thing is for certain, returning fire with fire by yelling and name calling, will not get you heard. Just watch any talk show with people of divergent opinions. Those folks are not listening to each other, because you cannot listen when shouting.

Let me leave one final thought. As a father of three adult children now, if you really want your children to listen to you, do one key thing. Lower your voice, even to a whisper. That will get their attention.

Silence is golden – a lesson still needed

A song by The Four Seasons and covered by The Tremeloes in the 1960s had a wonderful chorus echo and title “Silence is golden.” There are broader lessons beyond the words written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio. Here are the words from one of the stanzas:

“A talkin’ is cheap, people follow like sheep
Even though there is nowhere to go
How could she tell he deceived her so well
Pity she’ll be the last one to know”

Words can make people do things they may not want to do if they knew the truth. Also, a person can be his or her own worst enemy if they he or she keeps talking. There are lessons in being strategically silent, which can benefit everyone.

There are many examples that come to mind. Here are a few to ponder on:

-Once the sale has been made or the recommendation accepted, don’t revisit the issue. In consulting, if the client’s CEO shuts his presentation book and agrees with the recommendation, do not reopen the book. I have seen decisions unwound or sales lost as a result.

-When dealing with a bureaucrat in a customer service role, do not offer information outside of their purview or superfluous to the mission at hand. Once you get a customer service person outside of his or her white lines, you will need to come back with more information.

-When someone is lying or does not know the subject matter, the person risks discovery when he or she keeps talking. A certain former president is very bad at this. Mark Twain said it is better to let people think you are a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

-As a manager it is better to give employees enough input to do a job and then let them do it. My quotable old boss used to say, “our business is easy; hire good people and have them go see our clients.”

-Just because you think it does not mean you should say it. The best come backs to some personal arguments may be better left unsaid as they may be too hurtful or a bridge too far.

-Sometimes it is better to not to shout out the answer to a quiz show question as others like a chance to say the answer.

-Finally, as a parent, asking questions and then being quiet as your kids answer will both endear you and garner their thoughts. Plus, if you want them to hear you better, lower your voice not the opposite.

Let me know your reactions to this and please offer any other suggestions.

Remember those teachers who impacted you so much

Teachers are feeling the brunt of the recent COVID surge. They want to teach but keep themselves, their familes and the kids safe. Yet, we owe so much to our teachers, especially those that changed our lives.

I am biased as my mother was a teacher. I saw how hard she worked grading papers into the night, offering constructive feedback and encouragement to each student. I have seen criticism of teachers when they are looking for pay increases around them not working a full year. But, when you add up their hours and compare them to those of the average year-around working person, they have nothing to be ashamed of in that category.

Please indulge me as I remember a few of my teachers – I will focus on Grades 1 – 12, as I can do an entire post of college professors..

  • I remember Ms. Shrout, the tiniest of high school teachers, exude passion as she taught us Algebra and Trigonometry. She had to stand on her toes to write long solutions from the top of the board. And, she was funny and made us laugh as she taught us so much.
  • I remember Ms. Bowden, who no one would ever accuse of being warm and fuzzy, show her big heart and big mind as she taught us Chemistry and Physics. She treated everyone so fairly and gave up so much of her time as a softball and basketball coach. Ironically, I first met her when I was nine as she was my swimming instructor at the community pool.
  • I remember Mr. Franks who taught us Civics in junior high school. He made learning fun about how society should work, that I would love to see him teach folks today who need it so much. He was as engaging and inviting of dialogue as any teacher I ever had before I got to college.
  • I remember Ms. Regan who taught us Literature in high school. She made reading the classics enjoyable, helping us get beneath the stories that sometimes got hidden in the fanciful prose and poetry. Our classes were enjoyable and engaging. She also gave of herself as a tennis coach.

I could mention more, but wanted to highlight a few. I noted a couple of these teachers also coached the kids after school. They would spend a lot of extra time to help others in so doing, but if I remember correctly got US$500 per annum in extra compensation for all those hours of work at practice and games.

Let me know about some of your favorite teachers and why. Each of the above had a different style, but each conducted classes that were interactive and engaging, which is what it is all about.

Are generations that different?

Driving to a funeral seven hours away, my wife and I caught an interesting NPR discussion on the misconceptions about generations. The only thing I can recall about the guest is he is a King’s College professor in London and had researched this topic over fifteen years. Yet, his key conclusions were counter to how various generations are labeled.

Here are a few I recall, but please forgive the lack of citing his data, which he sprinkled in throughout.

  • There is not that much difference in generations; the key differences that occur among people are based on where they are in their life cycle – are they young and single, are they married with children, are they retired?
  • To this point, we layer on what generations are like based on observations of where many are at that time. If you looked at Gen Xers or Baby Boomers when they were younger, the same generalizations could be made about Millennials.
  • One of the issues about these generalizations that make headlines is sources are way to quick to judge and name a generation, that it is not really a data driven exercise.
  • He was quick to point out there are trends that have and will occur, but we need to let them play out more to see if that particular trend is a causal one that created change.
  • He also noted we have tended to segregate people more, when we should be doing the opposite, so there can be more cross-pollination of ideas and approaches. He said this segregation is the absolute worst thing we can do, as it contributes to misconceptions.

The interview was peppered with examples of misconceptions. Rather than highlight those, I would rather focus on the overarching comment. Painting any group with a broad brush is unfair. We tend to paint people based on the actions of the more demonstrative members of a group, not recognizing that the demonstrators may be from several groups.

We do this with generations, we do this with decades, we do this with political tribes and we do this with significant events. It makes for interesting discussions, but the key is to challenge that way of thinking. This is especially true when the generalization paints with a repeated slogan that its creators want you to be influenced by.

The “we” is a collective we as we all have tended to do this. So, the next time we paint with a broad brush, we should stop ourselves and think is this true or just a clever remark? Often, it is the latter, but it is not based on supportable evidence.

That broad brush

I responded to a comment on another post and felt the general theme needed a brief mention here. I will leave off the specifics, as the general theme could apply to almost any subject. We tend to paint people and groups with too broad a brush when we read or hear criticism. I know I do, so I need to guard against that tendency and back off.

Two key points. First, bad behavior sells more readily than good behavior. The doctor who performs 19 perfect surgeries, will be publicized poorly if he messes up the twentieth. The good will from the 95% accuracy rate will get lost. A poor outcome is hard for anyone to swallow, but we need context.

A few members of a group who do poor things will get a great deal of social media attention. The entire group will be painted with a broad brush, which is unfair. This is why the group who should be most zealous in policing bad behavior is the group itself. The Catholic Church failed for many decades to adhere to this policy and all priests were tainted due to the actions of a few. The same goes for political groups – when leaders defame the office they hold, the group they belong to should be leading the way to fix it, not hiding such behavior.

Second, a social media analyst said in an interview that the Facebooks and Googles know that fake news is six times more likely to be read and routed than factual news. The sensational made-up stories sell more readily. Students of disinformation, like Vladimir Putin and other autocratic leaders and wanna-bes, know this already. It just needs a hint a believability to sell.

In fact, someone who studies the Russian troll factories noted that often, the trolls would take a sensational story that had some truth in it and then blow it up into a contrived piece and drop it into social media. Their goal is to get a conspiracy outlet like Infowars or QAnon to pick it up. Then, when an elected official picks it up and mentions it, the more serious pseudo-news people will cover it enough that the officials will say “people are talking about this.” When the real news outlets start reporting it, the trolls slap high fives for success. It is a sophisticated version of a circular rumor validating the original source.

So, what do we do? Read and watch multiple sources of information. Look at the sources. A piece from Fox News personnel may be slanted, but it is far more credible than something from one of their opinion hosts, which is not news at all (using Fox leaders’ own words under oath in court).The same could be said for MSNBC and other sources that have opinion hosts.

Then there are sources that should be avoided at all costs who are selling conspiracies. A judge told Infowars to pay restitution to the families of the twenty-seven Sandy Hook victims its host defamed, eg. And a North Carolina man served in prison for four years for believing Hillary Clinton was running a child pornography ring from a Washington pizza parlor and besieging it. She may be imperfect, but a child pornography ring?

So, consider those conspiracies sources as a can of ugly paint. And, leave that broad paint brush in the garage. When you paint in the corners and crevices, you need a very small brush. Use it finely and with better looking paint that will stand the test of time.

Anecdotal, but seem like truisms

Yesterday, I went to a local Farmers’ Market that crops up (pun intended) on Saturdays and Wednesdays during harvest season. And, it started me thinking about anecdotal observations. They may be just anecdotes, but they sure seem to be truisms.

Have you noticed that people who go to Farmers’ Markets to buy fresh vegetables and fruits tend to be in better shape than the average person?

Have you noticed the opposite is true with people who dine at fish camps? – the more colorful the food, the better it is for you

Have you noticed a man will never be shot while doing the dishes?

Have you ever noticed that someone who is very skilled at something does not tend to brag about how good they are at it?

Have you noticed that someone who brags about his or her capabilities is trying to convince others of something that is less true than accurate?

Have you noticed the first suspect in a TV crime show shooting will usually end up dead, often discovered by the police going to see him or her?

Have you ever noticed the best coaches tend to be the ones who had to work harder at their craft than those where it came naturally?

Have you ever noticed the unknown actor beaming down to the planet with Captain Kirk is not going to make it back?

Have you ever noticed that lies travel faster the truth and, sadly, get more read? – the truth is often less exciting than a story.

Have you noticed a truism right out of the Ziggy comic strip – the better the packaging a presentation or product has, the less believable it is?

So, to sum up. Do the dishes, brag less, eat more colorful foods, be skeptical of provocative stories, don’t beam down with the star (this one is more profound than you think) and trust in Ziggy.

A Low Judgment Area

My youngest son uttered the above title that tickled all of us. A relative was visiting us the other day and she has habit (like many of us) of apologizing for things she need not do so.

As she was uttering an unnecessary apology for something, my son said “Don’t worry, we are a low judgment area.” It tickled all of us, including the apologist. But, it is also true. We do our darnedest to try to be less judgmental.

One of our blogging friends likes to say it is OK to judge things, but it behooves us to base our judgments on facts rather than biases. So, when I use the term “judgment” I am referencing an effort to not be unfairly judgmental.

Getting back to my son, his statement was marvelous as it was a nice way to invite someone to speak. It was “inclusive” rather than “exclusive.” I like that very much.

Let’s all try to be in low judgment areas. It will do us an awful lot of good.

Deny, Discredit, Disinform, Diffuse and Defray – a reprise from 2014

The following post was written almost seven years ago, before the former president walked down the escalator to announce his candidacy. He showed how to manipulate these five D’s, but his albatross was he could not control the one guy at the toggle. So, he often gets in his own way and the way of his helpers.

The five D’s. As a now 55-year-old man, I have witnessed over time the aggressively managed handling of criticism whether it is in politics or in big business. In my view, the defense could be summed up in the following order – Deny, Discredit, Disinform, Diffuse and Defray – where you keep drawing lines in the sand as you retreat. With each D and line drawn, you want to see if that will stave off the criticism.

The fossil fuel and petro-chemical industries have been deploying these tactics for decades, as what they do for a living is not easy and has a history of impacting the health and welfare of humans and the environment. When you add money on top of these approaches, it takes an Erin Brockovich to make any headway against them. Yet, what people fail to realize is these five D’s are an aggressive risk management strategy.

But, the approach is definitely not limited to big business. Vladimir Putin is probably the best games player around. He knows your weaknesses and hot buttons, so he has and continues to use these approaches. In the US, politicians value and pay dearly for spin doctors like Karl Rove, who in essence are paid liars. Their job is perfume any pig that comes their client’s way. However, most politicians who have won more than one election become increasingly artful in these defense tactics – Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Obama and the Bushes – all could be considered good at these approaches. With Nixon, the lies caught up with him as he taped himself. He only resigned once the courts ordered him to release the tapes that showed he was not only paranoid, but ran a burglary and disinformation ring out of the White House.

First, when criticism is made against what you do or have done, you deny it aggressively. That is absolutely not true will be words usually spoken. Note, with false claims, denial does not mean the accuser is correct as that is part of the defense strategy under discredit. Putin claims that Ukraine is fascist, but you really cannot call Ukraine fascist if they are trying to have democratic elections. The toxic fracking slickwater is not getting into people’s water supply, is a good example of denial. The NSA is not spying on Americans is another one.

Second, when the denial ceases to work, the discredit strategy begins. Sometimes, the discrediting comes with the denial. The Putin example is a good one. The global warming is a hoax is a prime example, where the fossil fuel industry through its public relations engine wanted to paint Al Gore and all of his imperfections as the reason why global warming was not happening. He lives in large mansion and is using this as a publicity stunt. Name calling or branding people comes part and parcel. Using terms like Hitler, Apartheid or Stalin to paint something you dislike is a common tactic. I have often been called an Environmentalist, which I am, but the term is used to smear me because it is meant to construe that I do not care about jobs. The fact that there are tens of thousands of jobs in solar energy in my own state and they are growing in number, seems to get overlooked as unimportant.

Third, if denials and discrediting don’t work, disinform. This probably frustrates me most, as it is a very common tactic on partisan news shows, to spin the truth, overlook the issues or just lie. I tell people often and write on this blog and emails for people to stop watching Fox news and its counterpart, MSNBC. Your are better off watching no news as the spins can be so severe that you are not informed –  you have been propagandized. The real truths include: Global warming is not a hoax. Fracking is not perfectly safe. Creationism is not science. Voter fraud is virtually non-existent. Business is not inherently bad, but needs governance. Protecting our environment costs us less in the long run. While there are a few abusers, people on food stamps are not gaming the system.

Fourth, if we are still in trouble, the next line in the sand is to diffuse. This is a measured  mea culpa which allows some concessions, but does so on your terms. You have already thought through beforehand what would be an acceptable position to come to, when the avalanche of truth gets too big. You have done some internal investigations and found there is some truth in what we are being accused of, so we will fix it. You are right, climate change is real, so we are going to focus on natural gas, as it burns cleaner than coal. The data breach is bigger than we first imagined, so we are doing the following. We are only getting Metadata and not listening to your phone calls and reading your emails.

Fifth, if this fails, then we need to defray. We need to settle claims as quickly and expeditiously as possible. We must avoid class action suits. We need to divide and conquer. Pay people a pretty penny, but limit the number of pennies and limit the number of hands. No one goes to jail. We just pay out of expenses what we have already accrued when the problem first reared its head. Or, let’s recall every car that has any minor defect now. This will be far cheaper than the potential lawsuit.

The five D’s. Next time criticism is flying toward someone or some entity, watch how the issue is handled. Usually, the higher the revenue stream potential, the more aggressive the defense. The truth is usually further away from the speaker with the most to gain financially. Not always, but often enough.

We need a Joe Friday presidency – just the facts

Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, along with a ceiling shattering vice-president, Kamala Harris. The first subject will be a breath of fresh air, while we should celebrate Harris’ elevation to her role as a woman who is multiracial, part African-American and part Indian-American.

On CBS Sunday Morning, long time conservative pundit and speech writer, Michael Gerson, noted the Biden presidency will be a return to normal governance with a heavy focus on standard communications of “just the facts.” This reminded me of another Joe, a role on the 1960s police show “Dragnet,” with Jack Webb starring as Detective Joe Friday.

The most consistent line uttered by the deadpan Friday to witnesses when they offered conjecture is “just the facts” usually followed by the appropriate “ma’am” or “sir.” It became so routine, the comedian Johnny Carson had fun with Webb in a take-off skit on his “Tonight” show’ well before Saturday Night Live started.

As the outgoing president rides off into the sunset with his well-packed saddle bag of routine untruthfulness, we are in desperate need of a boringly truthful president. This Joe needs to tediously follow the detective Joe with a consistent and daily stream of “just the facts.”

I am reading the excellent book by historian Jon Meacham called “Soul of America.” In it, he noted that Dwight Eisenhower was worried about being on TV too much as president. He thought Americans would grow fatigued with seeing him so often. He knew real leadership was working together with disparate interests and groups for a common cause and felt going on TV made it more about him. And, Ike knew a lot about leadership as Allied Commander over Europe in WWII.

Contrast that to the outgoing president who cannot stand NOT being the center of attention. Seemingly every issue is made about him, even things that we do not need a president to opine on. We are exhausted by this person and need a break. An old colleague had a line that comes to mind, “when you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember as much.” If the outgoing president did more of that, we would not need to hear from him so much.

I am hoping we can return to a more normal modus operandi where we need not hear from the president every day. People may disagree with his policies, but this Joe is a decent person. But, one thing is for certain, if the 46th president is talking, we will stand a far better chance of hearing the truth than from the 45th one. Just the facts, Joe.

The echo chamber feedback loop

“Everyone is talking about this,” says the outgoing president on more than a few occasions.. “Everyone knows this is true” or “Everyone knows” he might use as an alternative or add-on to the above, as he is prone to repeat himself. These are intentional phrases used to make the listener or reader skip past them and assume the statements are true. When you hear or read these comments, do yourself a favor and assume the opposite.

Why? Because you are hearing an echo chamber feedback loop. The echo chamber occurs when the same piece of information, rumor or conspiracy theory is repeated within limited sources of information. In fact, this is how disinformation is so easily shared, especially with an untruthful, unrelenting and unaware user in the White House. In fact, when a Russian, Iranian, Chinese or American troll hears the outgoing president repeat what they made up, it is like capturing lightning in bottle.

Here is how it works. One of these sources will concoct an outlandish story that has some link to the truth or preconceived notion. about a person or party. Hillary Clinton is a prime target, eg, she is imperfect and an easy foil for made up stuff. As of this writing, there is a North Carolina man who is in jail because he believed that Clinton was running a child trafficking ring from a pizza parlor in Washington and took action armed for bear.

The concocted story is then picked up by one of the conspiratorial websites or a known sensationalist like Alex Jones, Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. Since the outgoing president is on the look out for props to sell with (meaning a good story), he will latch onto it and retweet. Since he is president, the news agencies may pick up on the story he is espousing. As it gets repeated more, the lack of veracity of the story does not get repeated each time with the story, especially within the limited sources of information.

Then, the outgoing president will hear these stories and repeat them again. The story is still concocted, but now the White House incumbent believes it to be true and will punctuate statements with the phrases above. What is also interesting is even when the outgoing president makes things up on his own, he will begin to believe his own BS. This is what has happened with fraudulent claims of wide-spread voter fraud. He staged this story for months, but now believes it to be truth. Why? Because losing cannot be tolerated.

Years from now, historians will look back at this period and define the outgoing president as the most corrupt and deceitful US president. The voter fraud story is just a subset of his deceit, but the real story is how a person, well documented as untruthful, has convinced his followers every else is lying. That may be the biggest con in American history.

Two rules of thumb to remember. Read and listen to multiple sources. And, if the outgoing president says it or writes it, do not assume it is true. The odds are well in your favor to consider it false.