Presidential persuasion

It is fashionable these days to speak about “teaching moments.” The crisis du jour often becomes one.

Well, there is a teaching moment emanating from the White House that is powerful. It is curious. Like any good teaching, it can open the eyes of people in any number of situations.

The teaching moment is that this president violates one of the cardinal rules of persuasion. And he pays a price for it.

The rule he ignores is that “you” is the most important word in the language. And that “I” is the least important. From his earliest days in office he has filled his addresses with “I”, “Me”, “My”. In his recent big speech on immigration he used these words 91 times. He likes to compare himself to Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln used “I” once in his famous Second Inaugural Address.

Now you can get into discussions about each man’s ego. Like many of his critics you can call this president a narcissist. (Definition: Stuck on oneself.) Whether he is or not does not concern me here.

What fascinates me is that a man of such prominence shoots himself in the foot. He has yearned to persuade people to see things his way. He wants people to follow his lead. Yet he violates the most basic rules of the art of persuasion. He talks about himself. He tells us how he feels, and what he wants.

The price he has paid for this is that fewer and fewer Americans are following his lead. In talking about himself he has failed to persuade them. While he is saying “I”, they are asking “What about me? How will your moves on illegal immigrants affect me?” Knowing this is Persuasion 101.

You can say to a friend “You have told me how much you love a good steak. And you like good value for money. If that’s the case you might fall in love with the new restaurant we visited.”

Or you can say “Hey, I gotta tell you about this new restaurant. I have never had a better steak, and do I know my steak? I do!”

Now which approach is more likely to persuade the friend?

This is no secret. Anyone serious about leading people learns this. Those who want to sell or persuade learn it. It is not a matter of opinion. It is as big as a barn to anyone who tries to understand human nature. Talk endlessly about yourself and you turn off people. Talk about their interests and you capture their attention.

What stuns me is that apparently his speech writers don’t know this basic stuff. These are supposed to be among the best wordsmiths in the world. They craft speeches for audiences of millions. They put words in a president’s mouth that will be studied by historians for years. Yet they cram his speeches with the personal pronouns. They should take a few lessons from a used car salesman.

Of course it is possible he over-rides them. Re-writes their speeches. Could be.

This takes me back to when I served on the staff of a Navy commodore. He was hoping to become an admiral. We were about to be in the lead of a major deployment of ships and troops.

The commodore spent an hour addressing us, his team. Most of the hour he spoke about his awesome responsibilities. And the various caps he was wearing in this operation. He told us how he felt, what he thought.

From that moment everybody on his staff knew he would never make admiral. He was too insecure, too stuck on himself. Young though we were, we instinctively knew he was not a natural leader.

Teaching moment? Yes. For those who wish the President was more persuasive it should be a painful lesson.

From in Morgan.

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