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Sunday, November 3, 2002


Election style | Marketplace of ideas




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KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Bill Clinton: Has natural ability to influence and connect with people on an emotional level, which he learned to use with success.




Making the election
case, in style


By Deborah C. Micek

The recently published four-part article series on communication styles focused on how you can maximize your influence with a person at an optimal level in business. We discussed how you must know what type of person you are speaking with in order to discover the best way to communicate. Different strategies work for different people, and the four highlighted styles are also applicable to political campaigning.

Let's take the presidential elections over the last decade. No matter what a person's party affiliation was, I heard the same response from many of my friends who met former President Clinton. People from both political parties described him as a dynamic person who has a high level of charisma. He has a keen ability to stir people's emotions.

Clinton has a natural ability to influence people based on emotions and bring many around to his point of view. He successfully harnessed that strength for his own political gain over the years. His ability to connect with people on an emotional level was accomplished over the TV screen or at a live event. Perhaps that's why so many people reported feeling hurt and betrayed after he wagged his finger at the American public on national TV and lied to them. People trusted him. They gave him high credibility and status because they identified with him. They truly felt he cared about them personally, and "felt their pain." This caused them to develop an emotional connection with him, thus helping him win the presidential election twice.

Clinton falls into the same behavioral style as Isabella and Serena (the two representatives of the second and third behavioral styles we discussed). Because of the fact that he fell into the two most popular behavioral styles, it helped him establish rapport with more than 68 percent of the population.

Is money power?

Let's look at the presidential election of 1996 when CEO Steve Forbes was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. No one can deny that Forbes is an intelligent, successful businessman. He runs a fiscally sound corporation and has been able to influence many within his company. He has been a key player, directly and indirectly, in increasing the net worth of thousands of people around the globe.

One major weakness of his communication style, though, is his inability to connect with people on an emotional level. His factual, bottom-line approach fails to inspire or excite many people. Hence, although many people agreed intellectually with Forbes, they wouldn't vote for him. They understood he had insightful, proactive ideas that would have revolutionized the way government conducted business, but he lacked the ability to connect with the majority of the people.

It didn't matter how much money was at his disposal, he needed the people factor on his side. Forbes closely matches the behavioral style of David (the representative of the first behavioral style we discussed), connecting him to less than 18 percent of the population. He just doesn't have the style to connect emotionally with the majority of the population. Since a majority of the population make their decisions based more on emotion, they tend to be skeptical of anything he has to say. As logical as the concept of a flat tax may be, he did not translate his plan into emotional benefits that the general public would clearly understand.

These factors indicate he will never gain the majority of the popular vote. Unless, of course, he hires the right coach, just as the incumbent president at the time did. Clinton had a secret weapon -- a communication coach who taught him how to influence the masses.

Then there's Ross Perot. I don't think I'll ever forget the charts and graphs that he displayed with such organization and thoughtful preparation. Perot closely matches Clark, the gentleman in our fourth Case Study of the series. Connecting with a mere 14 percent of the population will never be enough to be considered a formidable candidate, no matter how many accurate facts and figures he presents.

Why sling mud?

Because it works. This is a similar question to the one that Margo asked about the obnoxious salesperson who was simply out for her own commission. Negative campaigning does exactly what it is intended to do for the candidate who is concerned about his or her own record with the population. It almost immediately instills fear and doubt into the minds of the 40 percent of the population that identifies with Serena (the representative from the third case study) whose biggest need is for security and stability. Many of the 28 percent of the population that identified with Isabella (the representative from the second case study) believe that politicians are supposed to be honest people, and wouldn't spread false rumors if there were no basis in facts to them; therefore the majority of the population easily falls prey to this tactic.

And since we're all so busy running our own "campaigns," taking care of our own families, the majority of the population won't take the time to do the research to get all the facts. Let's refer back to Clinton to see this principle in action. People simply took him on his word until the truth was uncovered.

Last Sunday, the Star-Bulletin gave us a helpful insert highlighting all the candidates running for the various positions in state government for Hawaii. I wonder just how many people read this over and decided to vote for a person based on the manner in which they answered questions and not for the political party to which they belong. Or whether or not people independently conducted their own research on the Internet to learn the truth about all the candidates, and compared the facts and figures.

Going by the behavioral styles, it's likely to be between 14 percent and 32 percent of the population.


Deborah Cole Micek, president of RPM Success Group, can be reached by e-mailing DEB@RPMSuccess.com or toll-free at (888) 334-8151.



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An open marketplace
of ideas is the best
mechanism for
reaching the truth

EXERCISING THE MIND


By Ken Schoolland

'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." So goes the saying of children who are so much wiser than their elders. But as young people grow up they learn that there are laws at their command that can be used to bring "sticks and stones" down upon people who say bad things about them.

To most grownups, a reputation is generally thought to be a piece of property -- something that they own. You "have" a reputation and I "have" a reputation. But is a reputation really personal property or is it merely the thoughts that others have about us? If it is merely the thoughts that others have, then how can we have a property claim on what others think?

Laws that presume to protect reputations are libel and slander laws.

In order to understand the nature of these laws it is helpful to realize that they are rooted in an era when kings and nobles used the state apparatus to punish people who said things that were unflattering about them.

From time to time, kings and nobles have drawn upon great power to prosecute some poor souls who dared to call them murderers and thieves instead of God's chosen elite who were destined to rule by divine right and heredity.

Just as common were provisions of the law that gave rulers sovereign immunity from anything that they would say about the reputation of peasants. As a vestige of this immunity, government officials in many lands are shielded from libel and slander laws when discharging official duties.

Is the purpose of libel law really to assure citizens of the truth of public statements? If the establishment of truth was really the purpose of such laws, then it would be logical that some injured party should be able to sue whether a false statement either damaged or enhanced a reputation unjustly.

It is commonly accepted that the reputation of a hero is damaged if someone calls him or her a thief. But certainly the public is harmed just as much, if not more so, when a thief is called a hero. But suing for false praise is usually not allowed. Indeed, false praise seems essential to contemporary politics.

Which reputations are protected by the law? Naturally, the law has been the handmaiden of those with the wealth necessary to engage the legal system most effectively.

Wealth figures into the calculation of what a reputation is worth and, simultaneously, how much "damage" has been sustained. Presumably everyone has a reputation but it is of no great legal value unless one can show that libelous remarks have caused great, measurable diminution to income and wealth.

Also, the more mental anguish someone suffers, the more they might seek in damages. Stalwart individuals with great confidence and self esteem, who do not care what others think of them, have little to gain in the courts. Instead, it is the frail and insecure personalities, known to children as "crybabies," who will be able to claim the most in emotional damage.

Some people believe that politicians, acting through government, can be the guarantors of truth. This is truly ironic, since surveys typically rank politicians among the least trusted of professions.

Believing that government is a guarantor of truth is really part of the problem. To the extent that people suffer the illusion that they are being protected by government, they will not exercise their own protective judgement. If one is to weigh the costs and benefits of libel law, it is this reason alone which leads me to the conclusion that more damage is done by the law than is prevented by the law.

Expecting to be protected by the law many people say, "If it wasn't true, then surely someone would have sued." And others are intimidated by the fear of potential lawsuits. This fear has a chilling effect, as in Singapore, where critics are silenced and the public is left with an absence of genuine debate.

Defenders of libel law can usually win a very sympathetic audience because they claim that the law ultimately protects innocent people from scurrilous attacks on their reputations.

In this instance, a bit of wisdom might be borrowed from that notorious semanticist, Lenny Bruce. It was his contention that words are only dangerous when their use is forbidden.

Today there are many accusations that people might find objectionable, but it seems that the impact of these accusations is lessened when people become accustomed to hearing words that were once forbidden. If a slanderous charge is rarely heard, then its impact can be great. But if it is heard all the time, then people learn to shrug it off, to disregard it, or to devise means of verification.

Years ago, when few people talked openly about homosexuality, it was then considered by some to be extremely harmful to a reputation to be called a homosexual. But now that homosexuality is spoken of more freely, the truth or falsity of such an "accusation" is insignificant.

Today it might be shrugged off or it might even enhance one's status. Even congressmen and ministers can be called "gay" and their careers are no longer in jeopardy.

Accusers typically reveal more about their own character than about the accused. That's why negative political campaigns so often backfire.

An open marketplace for words is the best protection against the power that unscrupulous people can wield with words. It isn't the words that ruin people, rather it is the reaction that gullible people have to words that can harm the innocent.

The government has long tried to monopolize the business of reputation investigation and insurance. As with all government intrusions into the market, the government is inefficient, the tool of influential special interests, and vulnerable to perverse, unintended consequences.

If the government had absolute control and prohibited all news except that which was officially authorized, as in North Korea or Cuba today, then we would have a source of information devoid of any credibility.

In the marketplace of ideas, we are free to choose the sources of information that have earned our trust. It is the competition for our confidence that rewards truth in the marketplace.

What is at stake is not really words and reputations. At stake is the power over thought. Those who are seeking truth cannot expect to get it with politics, laws, arrests, fines and jails. It can only be discovered by exercising the mind.


Ken Schoolland is an associate professor of economics at Hawaii Pacific University.


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