Monday, 5 November 2012

Persuasion, Influence and Why We Should Care


Persuasion and Influence, the first a sublime novel by Jane Austen, the second a very interesting reflection on the psychology of persuasion. Both to be recommended. 

They, are also, two of the most important tools for a politician, alongside charm and reputation, in my view.

And yet, so many get it wrong.

Case for the Prosectution, m’lud, is Terence Blacker's piece on statistics from a study that he doesn't deign to link to, This is a man who probably at heart, starts with a good point 
" When those educated up to degree level were presented with the question, “Politics and government seem so complicated that a person like me cannot really understand what is going on”, a mind-bogglingly 36 per cent concurred. The figure rose to 65 per cent among those who left school at 16

But he concludes in the wrong place, 

It is difficult to explain this degree of cheerful ignorance with any degree of charity." 
due to a complete lack of… well, heart. If you're put off by the tone of the article, then I don't blame you - it’s cynical, sneering, elitist and mean. Oh and contains a dig at X-factor culture which is just lazy. I don’t watch it but I do think it’s OK for people to enjoy it, as they aren't forcing me to watch the thing.

He's not completely wrong, there is clearly an issue, but it’s an extremely uncharitable way of looking at things. I’d prefer to describe the issue as:  if 36 per cent of people (at degree level no less) find politics and government too difficult to understand, is it worth considering that perhaps it is?

Perhaps, in addition, it benefits the people at the top/in the civil service to keep information to themselves or obfuscate the details to serve their own interests, and to preserve the status quo. Business, for instance, has HAD to become more open and transparent due to the pressures of competition, the modern inter-connected marketplace and campaigns like the Plain English campaign. Government has FOI,  but no other real motivation to increase understanding of it's inner workings. 

Step forward, Sir Humphrey:

James Hacker: It is very popular with the voters, Humphrey. Gives them a chance to help us to find ways to stop wasting government money.  
Sir Humphrey Appleby: The public doesn't know anything about wasting government money. We're the experts.

Maybe, dear, lovely ray of sunshine Terence might like to look at ways he personally can improve understanding of the issues rather than sneering at the graduate unwashed. 

In addition, we could also look to teaching the right things at school, it's my view that we currently prefer to teach to tests because it’s easier. It would be better to teach the Dialetic method, or how to examine an argument and deconstruct it. 

It's probably a combination of both of these issues above.

Another issue I have with Mr Blacker's article is I believe, as I've expressed in previous posts, that it is very dangerous  to your emotional health to ignore your emotions. I personally think the best judgement is a combination of thinking AND feeling. 

A little bit of a confession: I have been an elitist snob myself in the past. However, I have learnt from sales and the emotional intelligence work that I've done in my career,  that it’s much easier to persuade (and get what you want) if you find out what people are interested in, don’t consider yourself above everyone else and relate what they want to what you want, so as to establish a win/win situation. 

If you'd like an example on how to persuade properly - follow Hopi Sen's post here. I disagree with him because I believe raising the tax threshold is a better way to give low paid workers more money than the living wage - but Hopi's approach and not Terence Blackers, m'lud, is the way to construct an argument.


Anyone who believes in capitalism should get this from watching any salesman worth their salt. So, I find it interesting that the right wing are often the most sneery and divisive between themselves and the vast swathe of everybody else "not like them".

Yes, the "right-wingers" logic can be better, though logic is not everything, but it’s rather counter-productive, gets people's backs up and is in a way, why the left-wing, sometimes with less logic, get such a foothold – because they care.



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