Sunday, October 11, 2009

Advocacy and getting people on your side

As promised, this week is about the communication style known as “Advocacy” (as opposed to “Inquiry”). Advocacy in this context is taken to mean a communication “contest” in which one side tries to cause their perspective to be adopted, sometimes by whatever means necessary, and not the act of acting as someone’s advocate. Obviously, one can act as an advocate in a very noble way. Advocacy as a communication style can be performed in a productive way as well, but is often not. It can often involve 1) Logical fallacy that is intended to mislead, 2) incomplete or exaggerated evidence that is meant to, in the words of Socrates, “make the weak appear strong and the strong appear weak” and, 3) use rhetoric to lead others to conclusions that are not supported by logic or evidence.

Why am I talking about this? Well, because it often practiced in the workplace just as I have described above. It is important that we recognize it and know how to compete. That is, to know when the logic is flawed and how to get it back on track; to know how to weigh and judge evidence; and to know when rhetoric is being used instead of facts and be able to steer things back to less biased state.

As I mentioned last week, Advocacy concentrates on three areas:
1) Presenting a perspective
2) Attacking a competing perspective
3) Defending your perspective

Let’s talk about presenting your perspective. Make sure you state your perspective (or that your counterpart states their perspective) in a way that can be CLEARLY evaluated. For instance, let’s say your counterpart says that “When we do things that disappoint the customer, it makes us look bad. We should try not to do those things”. You need to respond that OBVIOUSLY it is in our best interest not to disappoint the customer. The statement isn’t specific enough for us to really even discuss. What do we MEAN by disappoint? What kind of things specifically are we talking about?

If you are in the Advocacy mode and wish to stay there, then you may want to say something that implies your counterpart is a bit naïve, and that “while they seem to have a grasp on the obvious, they should think a little more about their position before bringing up something so broad.” If you wish to get out of the advocacy mode and move into inquiry (which I will always recommend), you would want to ask them questions like “What makes you think so? Tell me more about… How do you know that? Is there any data you can share?”

It is common for an Advocacy argument to start with an ‘emotional appeal’. Now, these are seldom useful if stated in some overwrought fashion, so they are generally stated as if they are common knowledge, and as such they are accepted without question. THIS IS THE MOST COMMON WAY TO GET PEOPLE ON YOUR SIDE IN AN ADVOCACY SITUATION. There are about 20 such appeals. Here are a few types:
Appeal to consequences – “If we don’t lower prices, we are going to lose customers”
Appeal to fear – “And if we stop driving SUV’s, then the terrorists have already won.”
Appeal to flattery – "Surely a man as smart as you can see this is a brilliant proposal."
Appeal to tradition – “We have always done it this way”
Appeal to novelty – “Let me show you how people are doing it now. This is the latest way to do it”
Appeal to popularity – “This is how EVERYONE is doing it”
Appeal to authority – “This is how experts do it”

You can learn more about them here.

For instance, if I wanted to use an Appeal to Consequences, my statement could be that “our customers frequently get angry when we ship late to them, and they call us to complain and threaten to find other suppliers.” This strikes most of us believable; many in the room would accept it and move to finding ways to improvement shipment performance. But is it TRUE? Does it really happen as I stated? Have there been late shipments? Have there been calls from THOSE customers? How many? When?

If you are in the Advocacy mode and wish to stay there, then you may want to counter an emotional appeal in a way that 1) undermines your opposition and 2) shows that the thing they call a problem is really a symptom of something desirable. For example, if your counterpart uses an appeal to consequences that says “if we don’t improve our shipment performance, our customers will all leave”, then you counter it with a BIGGER appeal to consequence and use it as the reason that we MUST not worry about shipping performance. You might say “If you had done your homework, you’d know that the reason for the slight delay in shipments is the result of the HUGELY SUCCESSFUL COST CUTTING PROGRAM we recently implemented. While causing minor inconvenience to a few customers, we have increased profits dramatically, without adding people or capital equipment! The profits will help fund more research and development to get MORE customers than ever. This glitch in shipments is a small price to pay for what this means to our future!” This is very much like the response that salesmen give when you say “I can’t afford it” and they say “you can’t afford NOT to have it!”

If you wish to get out of the Advocacy mode and move into inquiry (which I will always recommend), you would want to ask them questions like “What makes you think so? Tell me more about… How do you know that? Is there any data you can share?”

To move to the collaborative, “inquiry” mode all you ever need to do is to counter these emotional appeals with logical appeals – asking for and testing facts. A logical appeal, done persistently and with skill, will usually make an emotional appeal look a bit hysterical and draw support to find the facts.

We are just scratching the surface on the subject of advocacy. I will talk more about the Presenting your case. This time we talked about sizing your perspective and getting people on your side. Next time, I will talk a little about 1) Presenting facts and 2) Presenting a Strong Conclusion.

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