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How Did We Get like This?

It starts with a story. When we feel the need to push our ideas

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on others, it’s generally because we believe we’re right and every­

one else is wrong. There’s no need to expand the pool of mean­

ing. because we own the pool. We also firmly believe it’s our duty

to fight for the truth that we’re holding. It’s the honorable thing

tu do. I t ‘s what people of l:haral:ter do.




Of course, others aren’t exactly villains in this story. They sim­

ply don’t know any better. We, on the other hand, are modern­

day heroes crusading against naivete and tunnel vision.

We feel justified in using dirty tricks. Once we’re convinced

that it’s our duty to fight for the truth, we start pulling out the

big guns. We use debating tricks that we’ve picked up through­

out the years. Chief among them is the ability to “stack the

deck.” We cite information that supports our ideas while hiding

or discrediting anything that doesn’t. Then we spice things up

with exaggeration: “Everyone knows that this is the only way to

go.” When this doesn’t work, we lace our language with inflam­

matory terms: “All right-thinking people would agree with me.”

From there we employ any number of dirty tricks. We appeal

to authority: “Well, that’s what the boss thinks.” We attack the

person: “You’re not so naive as to actually believe that?” We

draw hasty generalizations: “If it happened in our overseas oper­

ation, it’ll happen here for sure.”

And again, the harder we try and the more forceful our tac­

tics, the greater the resistance we create, the worse the results,

and the more battered our relationships.

How Do We Change?

The solution to excessive advocacy is actually rather simple-if

you can just bring yourself to do it. When you find yourself just

dying to convince others that your way is best, back off your cur­

rent attack and think about what you really want for yourself,

others, and the relationship. Then ask yourself, “How would I

behave if these were the results I really wanted?” When your

adrenaline level gets below the 0.05 legal limit, you’ll be able to

use your STATE skills .

First, watch for the moment when people start to resist you.

Turn your attention from the topic (no matter how important) to




yourself. Are you leaning forward? Are you speaking more

loudly? Are you starting to try to win? Are you speaking in

lengthy monologues and using dirty tricks? Remember: The

more you care about an issue, the less likely you are to be on

your best behavior.

Second, tone down your approach. Open yourself up to the

belief that others might have something to say, and better still,

they might even hold a piece of the puzzle-and then ask them

for their views.

Of course, this isn’t easy. Backing off when we care the most

is so counterintuitive that most of us have trouble pulling it off.

It’s not easy to soften your language when you’re positive about

something. And who wants to ask for other views when you

know they’re wrong? That’s positively nuts.

In fact, it can feel disingenuous to be tentative when your own

strong belief is being brought into question. Of course, when you

watch others shift from healthy dialogue to forcing their way on

others , it’s obvious that if they don’t back off, nobody will buy

in. That’s when you’re watching others. On the other hand, when

we ourselves are pushing hard, it’s the correct thing to do.


Let’s face it. When it comes to our strongest views, passion

can be our enemy. Of course, feeling strongly about something

isn’t bad in and of itself. It’s okay to have strong opinions. The

problem comes when we try to express them.

For instance, when we believe strongly in a concept or a

cause, our emotions kick in and we start trying to force our way

onto others. As our emotions kick in, our ideas no longer flow

into the pool. Instead, our thoughts shoot out of our mouths like

water out of a raging fire hydrant. And guess what-others

become defensive. When this happens, when our emotions tum

our ideas into a harsh and painful stream of thoughts, our hon­

<.:st passion kil ls the argument rather than supports it.




Catch yourself. So what’s a person to do? Catch yourself

before you launch into a monologue. Realize that if you’re start­

ing to feel indignant or if you can’t figure out why others don’t

buy in-after all, it’s so obvious to you-recognize that you’re

starting to enter dangerous territory.

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