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Would Mastering Presidential Debate Skills Help or Hurt Your Relationships?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - 1:50 pm

Debate is a competition at the high school and college level.  During a Presidential election year debate clips are bound to be everywhere you look.

Regardless of your political affiliation, the debate skills of Ted Cruz are impressive to say the least, with the Senator from Texas defying the polls to win the Iowa caucus. Much like Barack Obama in 2008, Cruz seems to win over crowds wherever he goes, and even people who can’t stand him will admit that he sounds great talking about ideas they hate.

Just as it’s natural to watch an NBA game and daydream about hitting the perfect three-point shot, there’s something within all of us that would love to be able to control a crowd with the power of our words. It’s obviously a great skill for politicians, but would using this same skill at work in your personal life be a positive or negative thing?

Unpacking the Science Behind Cruz's Strategy

Essentially, what you’re seeing when you watch Ted Cruz is Conversion Theory in action. Basically, this means that the minority in a group can have a disproportionate effect on influencing those in the majority.

Let’s say, while at work you start a new project, which everyone else in the room is against. Common sense would say you don’t have a chance, right?

Actually, if you’re confident, you may just get your way. Consistent and confident minority voices are most effective. When you state your reasons passionately and clearly, you will often find that most people go along with the majority opinion because it is easy, or because they didn’t see another option.

Timeless Tips From a Very Old Book

Ted Cruz has mastered principals from Dale Carnagie Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Although the book is 80 years old, it is still considered classic reading for the workplace and remains a bestseller.

So far, Ted Cruz has shown a mastery of Dale Carnegie’s principals on influence:

1.    The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.

2.    Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say to them, "You’re wrong".

3.    If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.

4.    Begin in a friendly way.

5.    Get the other person saying "yes, yes" immediately.

6.    Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.

7.    Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.

8.    Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.

9.    Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.

10.Appeal to the nobler motives.

11.Dramatize your ideas.

12.Throwdown a challenge.

The Dark (And Light) Side of Influencing Others

Influence happens continually in marriage, friendships, and at work. Every one of us tries to influence the people we live with, love, and work with on decisions as small as what movie to see Friday night, and as large as whether to buy a house or move to a new city.

Becoming a skilled communicator isn’t a bad thing by any means, but influence becomes manipulation when one party is uncomfortable with what is being asked or negotiated. If one spouse is pressuring the other to pull a significant amount of money from the savings account for a trip to the casino it’s manipulation, regardless of the words used.

At the end of the day, improving on the ability to influence others is something that nearly everyone can benefit from. Just remember that anyone who is a good professional, partner, parent, or friend, puts others first on a consistent basis.

The Presidential election is a zero-sum game—come November there can be only one. However,  life is much happier when we help each other win.