Monday, July 5, 2010

How Not To Win Friends Or Influence People

I’ve made a living out of finding ways to convince judges and juries that my clients are irresistibly right. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially since most people who come to lawyers are usually only about half right. Making this all the harder, the other side has an attorney too, and their job is to prove that my client couldn’t be more wrong. But I’ve had an advantage that has paid off time and time again, because I know something that seems to escape most attorneys and almost all bloggers. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

What is this magical knowledge? Simple: I know that people are suspicious of hyperbole. So when the other guy is whining how granting my client’s claim will cause the earth to crash into the sun, or they are foaming at the mouth about how my client eats children and I’m Satan’s third cousin, I’ve just go about my business and carefully lay out a logical and clearly reasoned case for why my client is right. I can’t think of a time this hasn’t worked.

I first discovered this principle when I was doing a clerkship for a group of judges. As I read through literally hundreds of briefs, I slowly realized that the most convincing briefs were the simplest, the most direct, the ones that laid out their reasoning with limited extraneous garbage. In fact, despite the lack of “big” and angry words, these briefs were quite compelling. They presented an argument. . . it made sense. . . I could think of no counter argument. . . winner. But the other guys, the ones who love hyperbole, offered nothing of value. Indeed, once they began rambling about how something is the greatest threat ever, it became impossible to take anything else they said seriously.

And the judges I worked for felt the same. None of them gave any credence to the hyperbolists. Some even ignored their arguments entirely. Others actively held the hyperbole against them, on the presumption that the hyperbole was evidence of a lack of substance, i.e. if they had a valid argument, they would have used it.

Since that time I’ve observed that this same principle holds true in other facets of life. If you’ve heard the expression, “methinks thou doth protest too much,” then you’ll know what I mean. Take Al Gore: he didn’t just deny what this woman is claiming, he “emphatically denied it.” But people who are innocent don’t “emphatically” deny, they just deny. They don’t say “and I really really mean it.” They just mean it. To say that you “really” mean it, implies that you usually lie, but this time we're supposed to trust you. No sale.

Bloggers are worse. Indeed, I am truly distressed by much of what I see in the blog world -- left and right. Look at this example from my inbox:

“These are desperate times for America, unless we ______ we will fall.”
Talk about a lack of perspective. This guy was actually talking about opposing financial regulation. At least a couple of you read the financial regulation article the other day, did you see anything in that financial reform bill which will cause American to fall? The Civil War, sure. Back when the Nazis wanted to enslave the world, or when the Soviets wanted to blow us off the map in a thousand atomic fireballs, yeah, that was a time we could legitimately say that we were facing desperate times and America might fall. But today?

And he continues:
“The socialists who at one time felt emboldened now feel cornered and threatened. As you read this, the Globalists, with all of their vast resources are organizing to fight Conservative Patriots, tooth and nail. The Army of Darkness will not be defeated easily; they lust for control of our beloved Nation. They know, if we falter on just one issue they can win all!”
Army of Darkness? Dude, I love that film! As for the rest of this pathetic crap, give me a break. This is the same garbage that the fringe was whining about when they knew that Clinton was about to turn us into a socialist utopia, when they knew that Carter was secretly planning to hand the world over to the Soviets, when they knew that Reagan had gone insane and was trying to disarm us in the face of the Soviet Union, when they knew that George Bush I was doing the bidding of some secret society, and so on. This is paranoid bullcrud.

Obama is doing some very bad things that will reduce certain freedoms (notably freedom of speech), injure our economy with increased regulation, probably bankrupt the government (ironically, putting an end to the dreams of big government), and increase racial tensions. But none of these will end our democracy. In fact, in our history, we’ve had much worse regulations, higher taxes, and nastier race relations than anything Obama is proposing. So get some perspective.

And even if this paranoia was close to correct, this guy is discrediting his own argument because what he presents is shrill, panicky and so-obviously-overstated and without substance that no one will believe it. This guy is like the attorney trying to assure the judge that enforcing my client's contract will cause the earth to crash into the moon. . . if not the sun. People tune out right at the get go with this kind of garbage.

Want proof? Think about it this way, the left had several legitimate grievances against Bush (in fact, even rightists were detailing them in op-ed pieces). But you didn’t give the left any credence, did you? In fact, you probably never even listened to them, did you? Yet you probably think of yourself as having an open mind, right? So why didn’t you listen to anything they said? The answer is simple: when they started their argument like this. . .
“The fascists who at one time felt emboldened now feel cornered and threatened. As you read this, the Globalists, with all of their vast resources are organizing to fight Working Americans, tooth and nail. The Army of Darkness will not be defeated easily; they lust for control of our beloved Nation. They know, if we falter on just one issue they can win all!”
. . . you tuned right out because you knew this was nothing but far-left fringe hate. You knew they had nothing of value to offer. So why would you think that our side saying the same things would receive a better response?

Trust me on this, people are willing to be told what to believe, but they want to believe that they reached that conclusion themselves. When you try to hit them over the head with fringemania, all you achieve is making yourself look like a nutjob.

Fellow conservatives, please stop using words like grave danger, outrage, horrific, despicable, and evil. Stop saying we've never faced anything worse. And if you’re going to call someone a ____ist, at least make sure they actually fit the definition, and even then think twice before doing it. Always ask yourself: “does this help my argument, or does this just turn people off?”

No go forth and persuade. . .


BevfromNYC said...

True, Andrew. The hyperbole stops the conversation. That is one reason why I don't frequent the "Bigs" very much anymore. It has been invaded by the "hyperbolists". It is the same at sites like HuffPo too. Many of these places start off with reasonable people wanting to have reasonable conversations, share ideas, and maybe vent at little too, but then the venters start taking over the place and all conversation ceases.

Interestingly, I find it easier (and more amusing) to defend myself against the HuffPo fringe than to defend myself against my own fringe element at the Bigs. Maybe because I don't have any expectations at HuffPo.

patti said...

fine, i admit it. i was a drunkist when i sent that email. but mark my word, we're gonna fail if i have to stop being a hyperbolist!

~cue doomist and gloomist music here~

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, It was actually a fundraiser e-mail from a guy who is basically a fraud. For only $30, he will send fax faxes a year to Washington on your behalf -- total cost 50 cents. You should see the garbage this guy spews out. He and his staff are constantly having high level meetings, etc. etc.

When I was in college, I met some of the people who do this for a living. They fund raise to support their own lifestyles and they mislead people about all the rest. And yet people send them lots of money.

This guy makes $29 on every single subscription. If he gets 1000 people to sign up, thinking they are supporting a "Tea Party Activist" then he makes $2,900 a month by doing nothing more than sending five faxes.

Joel Farnham said...


Is that tax free or does he pay income tax on that?

I do hear you though. One reason the tea partiers are effective to a point is that it is like a dancing bear, a conservative activist actually protesting?
Unheard of!!! Schocking even.

One reason, I don't go through the comments at Big Government,
Big Hollywood, Big Journalism, and now Big Peace, is because of the alarmists. One birth-truther is still at and continues with the birth certificate garbage. Recently, I have seen additions to it about Bilderberger.

I ignore it mostly, but I do know that left-leaning people point to that and say we are as a group out of control.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I don't go to the Bigs much anymore for the same reason. For many months now, it's been too angry and too crazy for my tastes. And no one talks anymore, they just yell about their pet peeves and then walk off.

I would bet that the reason you can take the Huffpo crowd better is because it's easier to accept that the other side is a bunch of crazies, whereas it's harder to hear our own views abused.

And that's the real problem that's bothering me. If you are right about something, and you want others to understand and accept your view, it absolutely does not help your cause to have the hyperbolists out there spouting off like a bunch of crazies screaming in the woods. That does nothing but turn off everyone who isn't similarly afflicted and it makes it so much harder to convince others that your side is correct.

And the thing these people never understand is that the shrill, whiny, extremist stuff just isn't persuasive. People don't listen to it because (1) they don't like the tone, (2) they know there is no point in talking to someone who is that strident/blind, and (3) they know they can't trust a thing the hyperbolists say because nothing they've said so far makes sense. People also know instinctively that talk like this is almost always a substitute for substantive argument -- in other words, if you had a better argument, you would be using it.

And yet, I see this stuff come through my blogger Reader every day and I just cringe at the rampant obnoxiousness of so much of it.

AndrewPrice said...


It is taxed, though they do usually take advantage of things like bulk mailing rates. It's a total scam and it kills me that people fall for this.

What they do is they create these huge impressive sounding names like "The Obama Truth Commission" or "Committee for the Defense of American Values" (in this case, they guy plays off the Tea Party name). Then they create these mailers (or e-mails) that are try to sound like they are a real power broker in Washington who works behind the scenes. You will usually see references to being called to "high level" meetings, etc. (This guy just claimed to be called to an emergency meeting to defend the law in Arizona.)

Then they tell you how they need more money to keep operating because it's your few dollars that keep them operating. And if you send money, they use it to buy mailing lists so they can send out more solicitations and to pay for their lifestyles.

I ran into some of these people in college, and they were all like this. They would go to the Capitol Building with a couple of friends and a banner. Take a photo of the banner. Put that into a news letter that they put together from the local newspapers. Then they would send out the mailers, claiming they had met with "key people" on whatever issue it was they were using at the time.

It's a scam.

Joel Farnham said...


I guess it is a good thing I don't have much money, otherwise I would have fallen for that.

I am beginning to suspect it is what most of the "Earn dollars through the Internet" scams that come up from time to time.

AndrewPrice said...


I agree about the Tea Party people. They are effective because they are a group of people who are so concerned about what is going on that they are willing to protest, they are willing to become engaged with blogs and e-mail lists, etc., they go to town hall meetings, and they vote. That makes them a powerful group. Add in that they were smart not to create a real party out of the movement, because it gives them strength because others need to appeal to them rather than just defeating a single Tea Party candidate.

I agree about the Bigs. I like most of the writers, but it's just not a pleasant experience to delve into the comments. The amount of paranoid conspiracy that gets jammed into the comments is a real turn off. So is the fact that if you try to engage in a discussion -- which means an actual give and take rather than blind acceptance, they will pounce on you. I'm not in the mood to fight with idiots, so I just leave them to their fantasy worlds.

And don't get me wrong on this, I'm not saying become a moderate -- not at all. I think what the Democrats are doing today is very, very bad, and it needs to be stopped before they do some serious damage (plus the damage they've done needs to be undone), but I just don't think it helps to start acting like a nut. In my experience, the best way to win people over is to lead them to the truth in such a way that they get there themselves.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, It's a similar idea, except that they actually do deliver the one things they promise -- they do send faxes on your behalf. But everything else is bunk.

This is why I always say that if you want to give money, give directly to candidates you trust. They will either use it or pass it out to people who can use it best.

It's actually the same thing with other charities. If you give to the previously unknown "Help The Gulf Now Fund" there is a very good chance that only a penny of what you give (if that) will actually go to help anyone in the Gulf. That's why you should stick to charities you know and those where you have seen them actually use the money correctly.

BevfromNYC said...

But Joel, the left-leaning groups don't have much room to talk when it comes to their fringe either. Theirs is just as vocal, just as strident, and just as prone to hyperbole as the right fringe. The Bigs and HuffPo are the different side of the same coin.

And as to the Tea Party groups, it is becoming harder and harder to hold back the tide of fringers there too. My guess is that once the midterms are over and there is more balance in DC the centrist Tea Partiers will fade back into the woodwork, and the real fringers will take over...this makes me nervous.

Joel Farnham said...


I don't see that happening. What I see happening is that the Tea Partiers being absorbed into the Republican party, making it much more Conservative. I see that the fringe groups, being fringe groups might take the Tea Party over, but that, as all third partys go, dissolve.

I see the Democrat Party being taken over by the Green Party and become a fringe party. I think that the Republican party will dominate and split into two distinct partys. It has happened before in our history.

Unknown said...

Andrew: A little hysteria is good for the soul. But then it's time to return to reality and practical politics. Obama is a bum, but he's not Satan. Reid is a devious crook, but he's not Al Capone. Holder is a slimebag (more on that in an upcoming post), but he's not Caligula. The list could go on. We have serious, real issues to deal with, and falling into hyperbolic exaggeration about the creeps in the Obama administration only makes conservatives and Republicans look like hyperventilating morons. Too much crying wolf, and too little planning for keeping the wolf away from the door. If everything that the Obamists do is the end of the world as we know it, what chance to we have to defend our way of life? There's plenty to attack and deter without turning into turkeys at Thanksgiving who know what's coming next. Righteous indignation works. Screeching vituperation and questionable charges only alienate those whom we're trying to convince.

On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi actually is the bride of Satan.

BevfromNYC said...

Hey, watch who you're callin' a screeching vituperation! That kind of language will not be tolerated in my presence 'cause...well...there were too many syllables for me...

Joel Farnham said...

Yeah LawHawk,

Since when do you use the $50 dollar words?

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I would argue that the fringe on the left is worse in terms of sheer anger and insanity because they don't really have a value system other than "destroy the rich" and "hate the normal." Whereas the fringe on the right is worse from a public relations standpoint because the media plays our fringe up but downplays the fringe on the left.

In terms of the Tea Party, I share your concern. Not because there is anything inherently "fringe" about the Tea Party, but because ALL organizations slowly drift to the fringes because it tends to be the fringers who work hardest on infiltrating these organizations and then bringing in more of their own. That's why groups like the ABA, the AMA, and even charities slowly drift further and further left.

That said, the people I know who are involved in the Tea Party do work very hard to keep the fringers at a distance. They are much better organized than they seem, and that will help them. And, ironically, the media has helped by highlighting the few fringers who got involved, which has made the Tea Party people fairly paranoid about keeping them out. So there is reason to hope. I guess it will all depend on how involved the "normals" stay after the elections -- and after Obama is driven from office. 2013 could be the end for them. (Of course, if you believe the Mayans, then 2012 is the end for us all anyways.)

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, That's actually not a bad guess. I could easily see the Tea Party people taking over the Republican Party -- in fact, I hear lots of them finally talking about that. And, as I've said before, that would be a good thing.

And that would probably get some portion of leftist Republicans to leave for a "New Democratic" Party, which would presumably be made from moderate Democrats and lefist Republicans, with the left fringe out in the wilderness again -- conditions are right for that, especially given the disappointment they have in how the Democrats have handled their super majorities.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I don't believe that Pelosi is the bride of Satan because that would make Satan a lot stupider than I've been led to believe! ;-)

I agree that there is a time for righteous indignation, and careful use of hyperbole can be very effective. But you need to use it sparingly. In fact, your mention of crying wolf is very appropriate. If everything Obama does from ObamaCare to golfing too much is the end of the world, then what credibility do you have when you really do point out that something is potentially the end of the world?

As I've said before (click here), I think our debt situation is truly a danger to this country. But what credibility would I have in saying that if I said the same thing about everything else Obama has done, no matter how insignificant?

Unknown said...

Joel and Bev: Cut me some slack, team. I have to use those words once in awhile just to prove I really did go to colluj. LOL

Tennessee Jed said...

Damn you are one sumbich evil effen blogger. If people don't stop reading your posts we are in for hard times the likes of which . . . . oh, wait--sorry you are right. Never mind.

USArtguy said...

I was raised by conservative, Republican parents. As I grew up and got closer to voting in my first presidential election, I wanted to understand why they were but make up my own mind politically. I didn't want to vote a particular way just because they did. This was 1980 and Russia had invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. People my age grew up fearing conflict with the Russians and it looked like we might become involved. While my family was very unhappy with Carter, people I worked with (some still today, thus my user name instead of my real name) were extremely anti-Reagan. He was a "cowboy", he was a crazy "war monger", he was "trigger-happy", the US couldn't trust him to have his finger on the nuclear button, the economy was bad and he would make it worse, surely the American hostages taken by Iran that Carter couldn't free would be killed if "Ray Gun" became president, etc.

On top of this several years earlier, Earth Day was created and my birthday picked as the date to commemorate it. Which to a 10 year old was pretty cool and I became an environmentalist, as much as a 10 year old could be.

So growing up with my heightened "love the earth" awareness, my Christian upbringing( which stresses peace) and entering a workplace who had vocal critics of anything even appearing to be a Republican, it came time to vote. Unfortunately, the only source of info for average country kids like me was ABC, NBC or CBS. Unfortunately, I believed a lot of what I heard because that's all I heard. It seemed my parents were the only ones who "didn't get it".

There was an independent running that year named John Anderson. I voted for him in my first election because, I figured if he won Congress (controlled by either party) wouldn't ever let him do what he wanted, he would veto anything they wanted and USArtguy wouldn't go to Afghanistan to fight Russians.

Then an odd thing happened. Reagan got elected and year after year not one of the terrible predictions about him came true. In fact, just the opposite: we didn't go to war with Russia, the economy picked up and people started to feel better about America.

That's when I began to realize I had been lied to by the Left all these years and my folks had been "right" all along. This also caused me to reexamine my environmental beliefs. What do you know? The Earth wasn't coming to an end, we still had plenty trees and clean air and fish and animals. Most more than ever before. By Reagan's next election I had become a Conservative Republican and I knew why.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Yeah. . . evil blogger! That's my official title! LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy, I think a lot of modern conservatives started the same way. They got pulled in by the "good sounding" things the left promised and they were turned off by the "nasty" stuff they were told about conservatives. And then they found out that nothing they were told about conservatives was true, and that liberalism wasn't what it was sold as.

And I agree 100% with your point. If you make the other guy out as Satan, and he turns out not to be Satan, what are people supposed to think about everything else you've said? In other words, when the world doesn't end, then they start wondering if everything else you said wasn't just as wrong.

The best, most convincing strategy is the one that relies on being correct. When people see that what you say comes true, and that you aren't someone who lies or makes things up or blows them out of proportion, then they begin to trust you. Once people trust you, then they are much more likely to listen to everything you have to say and they are much more likely to re-examine their own views when they conflict with yours.

But if your argument is premised on name calling or hyperbole, then people never develop any trust for the things you say and they tune you out rather than considering what you have to say.

StanH said...

I’ve worked with many great salesmen over the years, and one of the hardest things to learn is when to shut up. Once you’ve closed the sale, finish your business and get out of the door - - or stated more succinctly, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

However, when you’re talking about Barry and his minions (hyperbole), make no mistake he is stirring the pot in dangerous ways, and he means to do it. A bit of well placed hyperbole, or urgency is called for, as opposed too, bland, conservative (mind your own business) complacency, something I did quite well most of my adult life. Like it or not, reasoned debate with a ‘60s radical is a waste of time, it’s an argument that anyone will lose, because they don’t care, they have no morals, no honor, no fixed standard, in other words the ground rules are quicksand.

What worries me most however, are the things that led to our Revolution, Civil War, WWI, WWII, etc. had reams of hyperbolic writings surrounding them all, in fact you could say, our Founders engaged in rampant hyperbole. We’ll it’s happening again, and we’re talking past one another, if we can’t defeat these people politically, then what? …I guess the simpler option would be to acquiesce. A good thought provoking article Andrew. Oh!…and please excuse the hyperbole…ha!

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, LOL!

In terms of arguing with liberals, I honestly don't see the point in it anymore -- they've created a mindset that makes it impossible to talk to them. But there aren't very many of them. What I'm talking about are reaching the big middle of the country, the ones who decide elections, and getting them to understand and embrace conservative ideas. And those people do not respond well to either fringe or to any arguments based on hyperbole.

I'm also not opposed to all hyperbole, especially when you're talking about trying to rouse your base. But so many people today simply offer nothing but hyperbole. Indeed, everything they post begins with "these are the gravest of times our nation has ever faced" which is just ridiculous.

Obama and the Democrats are doing bad things, and they need to be stopped and reversed. But this in no way compares to the dangers this nation has faced in the past and the troubles this nation has gone through. And when these people begin every sentence with "the end is near," you just can't trust anything else they say.

In terms of talking past each other, I'm not sure that's as big of a problem as people think. First, despite what they want you to believe, the fringes are very small. They tend to be in the 3-6% range (on both ends) in most polls and voting patterns. That's not enough to sway the rest of the public. Nor is the public interested in these people. The public is upset, make no mistake about that, but they are looking to replace the politicians who have become too comfortable in the system with politicians that they think are more like themselves. . . they aren't interested in changing our form of government, our Constitution, or starting fights.

Can the fringe still cause problems? Sure, they've done it before. But the American fabric is much stronger than people give it credit for, and the public does not like revolutionaries.

So I'm not worried.

patti said...

andrew: whew, glad to know it wasn't me ;)

AndrewPrice said...

No, Patti, it wasn't you! LOL! You've got a great sense of humor about these things. So many others don't.

patti said...

andrew: i try. if i wasn't pointing and laughing, i'd be sunk.

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, I know the feeling! :-)

MegaTroll said...

All excellent points. I don't mind hyperbole when it's done with humor, but when people are serious, then it's just a huge turn off. Obama is bad, but he's not the worst threat this country has ever faced. When someone starts like that, I just tune out. They aren't worth listening to.

CrispyRice said...

Great article, as always, Andrew! In fact, probably the bestest ever article I've read in my ENTIRE LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Mega, I'm always glad when people enjoy my articles.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Yep, this could be the greatest article of all time! LOL! Thanks.

DUQ said...

I enjoyed the article, of course, but the comments you guys get are great, too. Funny and insightful!

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, Thanks, and I agree, the comments were very good. Our crowd is pretty smart.

Ponderosa said...

Thanks Andrew, another perfectly average post.

My interest was almost piqued.

Too little?

It's - 'hypo'bole.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, LOL! Just the right amount of non-hyperbole! :-)

rlaWTX said...

I figured this out when I wanted to call in sick - least amount of detail was best - otherwise you sounded like you were trying too hard!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Good for you! LOL! It's true in most facets of life -- the calm, not-overstated approach is the most convincing because it doesn't sound like a sales job.

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