Friday, October 17, 2008

Speaking to the Thwarting Ploy

Holly Weeks has written a nice little book, "Failure to Communicate" (Harvard Business School Press). She talks about how to approach impossibly awful conversations with effective strategy.

Thwarting ploys are efforts to derail substantive conversations -- by injecting emotion, irrationality, bullying or other distractions. Response to such ploys is hard, because they surprise us and because they take us to uncomfortable places. But Weeks recommends 'speaking to the ploy' -- not ignoring it and not responding in kind, but putting the ploy itself into the light of day.

We've seen thrwarting ploys in the presidential election. We've been distracted by insinuations and direct claims of Obama's otherness: his name is weird, isn't it Muslim and he can't possibly be American.

Well, last night at the Alfred E. Smith dinner, Barack Obama very effectively 'spoke to the ploy' using droll, self-deprecating humor. He followed the rules laid out by Weeks: respect yourself, respect your counterpart and respect the conversation.
  • "Many of you may know that I got my name from my father, Barack. What you may not know is that Barack is actually Swahili for 'that one'."
  • "And I got my middle name from someone who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for president."
  • "My middle name, it's not what you think. It's actually Steve. That's right, Barack Steve Obama."
  • "There was a point in my life when I started palling around with a pretty ugly crowd. I've got to be honest. These guys were serious deadbeats, they were lowlifes, they were unrepentent no-good punks. That's right. I've been a member of the United States Sentate. Come to think of it, John, I'd swear I saw you at one of our meetings."
Obama shouldn't have to speak to these things every day, but it was refreshing to seem him do so last night. Perhaps we can just play that speech over and over again on prime-time television? I think Obama raised enough money in September to do this.

1 comment:

will monahan said...

Perhaps he can keep the lighter side to the yearly appearance of the President a the White House Correspondents dinner.