How to silence political bores with your own deft analysis

Published on: 3/6/2011

I have to credit some poor headline writer for that title, which I stole. And I mean "poor" in the sense of not being very good. The article was about how to have conversations with people, not how to silence them. Funny when even your own staff, the guys on your side, can't read or listen properly to what you are saying.

There's a lot of that going around.

I don't know about you but I haven't had a lot of luck rendering people speechless by virtue of  my very own brilliance. Possibly this is because I'm not all that brilliant. But more probably, it's because people pretty much want to stick with whatever they've decided to think. The polite ones are just waiting for you to take a breath so they can say what they've been thinking all along. The impolite ones interrupt you to do it.

Most of those brilliant thoughts somebody else thought and planted as a sound bite anyway. Which brings me to the first of three rules, learned the hard way.

Three Rules to Achieve Total Conversation Domination and Become Thin and Rich, Or Maybe at Least Have a Real Conversation

1. If you've heard Glenn Beck or Michael Moore say it, don't repeat it.

Everyone's already heard it a thousand times. And especially don't repeat it if someone sent it to you and everyone else they know in e-mail. It's unoriginal, it's boring, and it's probably not even quite true. To show you how unoriginal these ideas can become, I just read Tom's blog and he said the same thing, more or less. Though the rest of his blog is brilliant and original, of course.

Parenting helped me learn this rule. When the great pre-Christmas buying propaganda/ open season on  children began each year, we'd say, "you can't ask for anything you've seen advertised on TV." Forced to think their own thoughts, the kids came up with (a very few) things they actually wanted and that we actually wanted to give them.

2. Do your homework, know what you're talking about, but ditch the deft analysis.

If you aren't willing to consider that you are wrong or that someone knows something you don't, you shouldn't be having conversations. You should be giving lectures or writing books. I wouldn't count on many people wanting to listen to or read them, but give it a shot.

Fact is, I don't really want to silence people or be silenced by them. I'd like to have a real exchange. Maybe I'll learn something. Which brings us to the final point:

3. If you feel passionate about this, relate it back to your own life and how it's affected you personally.

The facts are there to be deployed and debated. But if you can't tell me how a teacher's salary has harmed you, the other guy's story about how a teacher has changed his life trumps your political theory. If it hasn't affected you in a real, tangible, and believable way, your passion may be misplaced. Maybe you're just passionate about trying to win.

I hate it when I do that. Don't you?