Thursday, October 29, 2009

Presenting your case - in that twisted Advocacy Style

Last week, we spoke about ways to lead (or mislead) an audience using the Advocacy model of communication by presenting certain kinds of evidence in a biased way. This week, I will continue with this.

Exaggerated graphs – An easy way to shade information to support your perspective is to create graphs with exaggerated scales. Let’s say that I have the following productivity data for a given operation:

Let’s say I want to paint the picture that our productivity has been consistent. I would scale the graph so the three lines land in about the same place. Mathematical proof of consistency

What if I wanted to point out how inconsistent we are, using the same data? I only need to change the scale.

This operation needs help – they are all over the place! Same data, different scale.

“All” and “Some” - The words “All” and “Some” are tricky to use, and you should avoid them when you can. If the OTHER side uses them, try to exploit their use. For example, you shouldn’t say “All of our customers are happy with our new product.” The other side only needs to find one or two that are willing to say an unflattering thing and, if they present it strongly enough, you will lose your credibility. If you use the word “Some” in the same way ( “Some of our customers are happy with our new product”) your statement invites criticism. If the other side uses it, you would CERTAINLY say “I hope we aren’t trying to build a business by making just SOME customers happy!!!” It’s best to not use “All” or “Some” and let the OTHER side make that mistake.

Slopes and Heaps – at sometime in your career, you will hear someone talk about how “first you allow this, then you accept that, and soon you will have all KINDS of trouble!” These statements are referred to as “Slippery Slopes” or “Heaps”. If your opponent uses the argument that once we allow certain things to happen, then we will be powerless to stop it, think about what they are saying. Is there REALLY no way to give a one-time allowance on something that is a small concession and good for the business? Why can’t we make an exception if it is the right thing to do? Why can’t we reserve the right to say “no” next time if THAT is appropriate? There are few slippery slopes that can’t be addressed with common sense, and there is no rule that says we can’t de-prioritize consistency if it makes sense for the business. By the way, a “Slippery Slope” is one on which once you start climbing down, you may not be able to climb back up to where you began.

The use of the word “Heap” comes from a problem of defining a Heap. For instance, if you put one grain of sand on the floor, is it a heap? Most would say no. Two grains make a heap? Again, no. 100,000 grains make a heap? You bet – and a big one. Ok, so how many grains exactly did it take to make the heap? In other words, at which exact number would one less be NOT a heap and one more BECOME a heap? This is a pretty common approach to dealing with arguments like “At what point does my attendance become significant”, “At what point does a cell cluster become a fetus”, or “At what point is a man considered bald”?

Continuum “The Golden Mean” - When faced with presenting a somewhat extreme position, it is best to find a way to make it seem more moderate. For instance, let’s say you favored prison time for first time shoplifters (I HOPE you can see that as an extreme position!). You might present it as “Some people want to just let these law breakers off with a little probation, and others want to institute capital punishment for them. I favor the more moderate position of incarceration. This is a serious problem, but those other approaches are excessive and extreme”. All you have to do is find one nut that thinks we ought to institute capital punishment for shop lifters, and you will have presented the moderate view. People LOVE the moderate view.

Next week, I'll post a few final thoughts about PRESENTING your case, and start into some ways to ATTACK the OTHER guy's case!

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