You Are the Message - Roger Ailes, Jon Kraushar (1995)
Chapter 8. THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD
Emotion is the double-edged sword of communication. When emotion is positive and genuine, there is no more constructive and powerful force of persuasion. But when emotion is negative or insincere, it creates a wall between the person sending the message and those receiving it.
Just consider a few public pronouncements where emotion moved audiences worldwide.
✵ Martin Luther King, calling for civil rights at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, declaring, “I have a dream!”
✵ Astronaut Neil Armstrong, stepping onto the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, saying, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
✵ Ted Kennedy, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, June 8, 1968, quoting his assassinated brother Bobby: “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’ ”
✵ Actress Louise Fletcher, accepting the Academy Award for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched in the film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, paying tribute to her deaf parents. With tears rolling down her cheeks, she simultaneously spoke and delivered her message in sign language to her deaf parents watching television at home. She said (and signed), “Thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true.”
✵ General Douglas MacArthur, announcing his retirement before Congress on April 19, 1951. He quoted the popular barracks ballad, saying, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” Then he added, “And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away.”
✵ President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his 1933 inaugural speech, assuring Depression-wracked America that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
✵ British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his speech to the House of Commons in 1940, saying, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”
✵ Prince Edward VIII of Wales, the duke of Windsor, abdicating his claim to the British crown to marry American divorcée Wallis Warfield Simpson by saying, “But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”
These were public statements charged with emotion. Recall the impact of some of the emotional communications in your lifetime. Perhaps when your spouse proposed to you. Or when your child said “Mama” or “Dada” for the first time. When you said, “Yes, sir!” (finally loudly enough) to a drill sergeant.
To be a good communicator, you’ve got to bring some personality and emotion to what you say and how you say it. Whether you’re speaking to one or to thousands, you can’t just assume the audience is interested only in the words you’ve written down. If that were the case, you could save yourself a lot of trouble by staying home and just mailing them your speech. Then they could read it on Saturday, when they have more time to concentrate on it.
First and foremost, the audience is interested in you, and that means you’ve got to put something of yourself on the table. Let your audience know who you are and why you’re there. Remember, you are the message. Then you can move into your material.
A RANGE OF EMOTIONS
When the emotions of communication are expressed with commitment and colored by nuance, that is communication at its strongest. The biggest problem many people have with emotion in speaking, however, is that they try to control it or destructively repress it. Often this is where fear takes a grip on them or anger causes them to alienate others. We’re all acquainted with the shy person who clams up at a dinner-table discussion or at a business meeting. Or the anxious person at the lectern who stammers because of stage fright.
Too often we hear anger communicated. We hear accusations shouted or sarcasm used. Or, as bad, we hear a tremor in someone’s voice caused by ill-concealed rage or frustration or fear. The question is not how we eliminate emotion but, rather, how we use it to our advantage.
People want to see a communicator have a range of emotions. Everybody knew coming out of the Iowa caucuses in 1980 that Ronald Reagan was an affable ex-actor and ex-governor. There was some talk even then that he was too old to really hold down the job, that his mind wasn’t sharp enough, and so on. Even his enemies said, “You know, he’s a nice fellow.” Tip O’Neill said, “I like him.” But nobody really felt that he had a range of emotions.
Then, during the New Hampshire primary, just before a debate, the moderator shut off Reagan’s microphone. Reagan jumped to his feet, grabbed the microphone, and yelled at the moderator, “I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green.” Everybody jumped back and said, “Holy cow, there’s more to this guy than we thought. He’s capable of getting tough. He’s capable of being decisive.” That was the turning point of his campaign. That’s an example of a person using a range of emotions. And in my opinion, it broadened the concept of Ronald Reagan dramatically.
Many people see the world in one of two ways: They are either emotional or rational. But the world is not that black and white. For years, I’ve told my political clients that there are heart issues and there are head issues. You can talk about taxes and roads, and those are head issues. They require intellectual conceptualization. But if you start talking about abortion, missing children, or health care, those are heart issues. They concern people.
Martin Luther King’s birthday is an emotional issue to many people in this country. You cannot talk about it as a head issue then, because people will think you’re cold, insensitive, and even bigoted. People have to feel that you really are sincere, whatever your point of view. If there’s no emotion in your communication, they get mixed signals. They know instinctively that the subject is emotional, and they expect to see or feel that you recognize that, too. If they don’t, they get this very cold, uncaring feeling about you.
And it’s true of CEOs, it’s true of television personalities, it’s true of anybody. It’s true over the back fence to your next-door neighbor. If you come out back and look over the fence and say, “Well, your tomatoes don’t look too good this year,” that’s a negative conversation. If you come out with a smile and say, “Hey, that’s great. You’re growing tomatoes. I wish I could do that,” and smile, you’ve got a different neighbor. In fact, he’s the same neighbor, but you’ve created a different person by your communication approach.
THE PERSONAL TOUCH
As my associate, Jon Kraushar, says, the facts provide the information and emotion provides the interpretation. You’ve got to bring something personal to the communication process. Otherwise, you’re wasting people’s time. You’re wasting your own time. To be a really good communicator, you have to start by knowing how you feel personally about what’s going on. Then, once you’re aware of your own emotions, you can more easily communicate in the right tone to others.
PRESSING TOO HARD
Often in our training we are met with unexpected emotionalism. I’m always glad to see it because I know this person can become a good public speaker. Here’s an example of how you can overcome problems in communicating once you come to terms with your feelings.
A client came to me because he suddenly had become terrified of any public speaking situation. It had come on unexpectedly. Prior to that, he had been a pretty good public speaker. Now I’m not a psychiatrist. But I do believe that a lot of problems can be talked out. I tried reviewing with the executive some possible causes for his “blacking out,” as he called it. Nothing convincing emerged from our discussion.
I tried to just get him on tape, to get a glimpse, if we could, of his blackout reaction. We wanted to relax him. So we gave him an extemporaneous speaking exercise. We asked him to describe someone unforgettable. He began by talking about a general he had worked for in the Army. Then he mentioned that the general reminded him of his father, and as he began to describe his father, he began to cry.
It turned out his father had recently died. The father had been very tough and demanding during the executive’s formative years, pushing the boy to achieve and rarely praising him. Yet, despite some friction between father and son, the son had worshiped his dad.
It all came out in an emotional catharsis during our private session. The executive realized that he was afraid of letting his father down if his speeches weren’t excellent. The executive’s stage fright turned out to be a temporary paralysis. By simply talking about it, he finally was released from the compulsion to perform up to his father’s expectations. This swirl of conflicting emotions apparently had frozen the executive until he came to terms with how he felt.
After a few coaching sessions, the executive’s blackouts first diminished, then vanished. He has since received an important promotion and, in fact, has been identified by some leading business magazines as one of the most competent young CEOs in the country—in large part due to his communication skills.
QUALIFICATIONS VERSUS QUALITIES
Emotions affect your overall attitude about life, people, yourself, and your job. When I hire staff for my business, I consider attitude one of the most important job qualifications. In fact, it’s not even right to call it a qualification. Many years ago I learned an important lesson from a brilliant television executive named Chet Collier, who was one of the key influences in the development and success of “The Mike Douglas Show.” He used to say there are two parts to the job. First, the qualifications you look for. Second, the personal qualities you look for: things like integrity, courage, and hard work. I’ve never forgotten that, and often the first thing I look for in hiring is the quality of attitude. If the attitude is not right despite all the other qualifications, the person will probably fail.
My work sometimes requires, say, members of my staff to be in several different states on a holiday weekend. The stress on them is tremendous. If we make an error in judgment, we can cost clients millions of dollars and seriously damage their careers. In that high-pressure environment, my staff has to bring others up, not down. They have to solve tough problems while making it look easy and soothe tender egos while driving the team to excel. They must be emotionally well balanced.
Certainly the 1986 insider-trading scandals on Wall Street demonstrated the important link between qualifications and qualities. Each person indicted in the scandal had formidable qualifications—the right schools, the right job achievements, the right industry contacts—but the wrong ethics. The qualifications were there. But one of the most important qualities—integrity—was missing.
I’ve hired hundreds of people over the years for different projects. The resume tells me if the person has qualifications for the job. But what about that person’s qualities as a human being? One of the first things I ask when I check someone’s references is “How does this person make other people feel?” If I hear on the other end of the phone, “Well, what do you mean ‘feel’?” I say, “Do other people like him? Is he trustworthy? Honest? Do others enjoy working with him and being around him?” If I’m told, “He’s a real loner, and sort of downcast,” I think, “This is probably not going to work.”
THE GLASS CEILING
Many women complain that their qualities and qualifications are subject to a double standard in the business world. While the principles in this book apply equally to men and women, I’d like to address the special concerns of women in a few key communications areas. A great many women feel frustrated by male domination in business. Some women, for example, drop out of the corporate rat race because they feel they cannot go all the way to the top. The expression is that an invisible barrier—a “glass ceiling” built by men and society—blocks women from promotion, especially to senior management positions.
Statistics suggest that women are both right and wrong in their allegations. The glass ceiling is often real. But it can be penetrated. If nothing else, the sheer logjam of women coalescing nearer to the top has got to create enough pressure for the glass ceiling to crack—if not to break outright. According to The Wall Street Journal, in 1982, 21.7 percent of middle management jobs were held by women. In 1992, that figure had risen to 30.5 percent. In 1976, hardly one in eight newly graduated MBAs was a woman. By 1992, that proportion increased to one in three.
Between 1977 and 1994, the number of female directors on the boards of the top five hundred U. S. corporations jumped from 46 to 570—a 1000 percent increase, according to Catalyst, the women’s research organization.
Although the representation of women in top management spots remains small overall, the trend lines are set.
An evolution, rather than a revolution, is taking place. I believe that in ten years we’ll see a higher proportion of women in top management spots. Golda Meir once observed that “to be successful, a woman has to be better at her job than a man.” By sheer grit and talent, enough women will fight their way through the gauntlet of male chauvinism, family pressures, and corporate political infighting. In ten years there will be more female CEOs and presidents—and not just in publishing and printing, for example, where 8.4 percent of board directors are now women, or in apparel, where 10 percent of corporate officers are women. In ten years there will be women running major high-tech and manufacturing companies, perhaps even a few women at the top of industries like metals and automobiles.
THE HASSLE FACTOR
Women who ultimately succeed in the business world have to rely on their communication skills. It has been my observation that the biggest problems in the workplace occur when what I call the hassle factor comes into play. Women are hassled—stressed, confronted, challenged—in a variety of ways when they come up against mostly male and occasionally certain female negative attitudes in the workplace.
The male hassles may involve men who are blatantly condescending, demeaning, or belittling. These hassles boil down to territorial turf wars. They may be part of the locker-room exclusivity and male bonding of the old-boy network. Men frequently move to the attack too quickly in a hassle in an effort to overpower the woman.
Female-to-female hassles include the difficulties of supervising other women, who occasionally exhibit a sort of reverse chauvinism—they resent female success and authority. Women who hassle other women often fume at their female adversaries, gossiping about them and failing to cooperate with them at a crucial time in the development of a work project.
Regardless of the form of hassle, men often overreact to women when the hassle surfaces. The men yell. They lecture. They whine about the so-called female temperament. They make all kinds of disparaging remarks directly to women—and behind their backs.
Unfortunately, many of the women executives that have come to me for counseling also overreact to all kinds of hassles in one of two ways. The first way is to come on too strong, to become abrasive and think you have to fight fire with fire. That approach just makes for bigger, angrier confrontations. In the second type of reaction, they don’t come on strong enough for fear of offending. That doesn’t allow the issues in dispute to surface. It only makes frustrations worse.
The best way for a woman to approach confrontations that become tense is to try to normalize the situation. Don’t give it more importance than it really deserves. Don’t back away from it if you need to confront it. But don’t feel that as a woman you need to be overly aggressive to be taken seriously. Learn to use neutral language to spell out the situation and how it can be corrected. Once you do that, you’ll be standing your ground in a nonthreatening way.
Most communications hassles between people in the workplace—whether male or female—amount to a struggle for power: One person wants to one-up the other, so there is a conflict. The secret to overcoming the hassle factor is to redirect the negative energy of the conflict into positive energy for you. For example, sociologists Candace West, Donald Zimmerman, and Pamela Fishman, among others, have recorded and analyzed spontaneous conversations between men and women. The patterns that emerged are that many men freely interrupt women and dismiss women’s ideas—and many women tolerate this! Instead, women need to firmly but pleasantly wrest back control from men (or women) who try to verbally bully them. The ruses people use to throw women off track vary widely. Sometimes it’s a diversionary tactic, such as a man’s interrupting a woman who is running a meeting by saying, “You’ve got the most gorgeous eyes” or a similar comment about her looks or dress. Or it may be an annoying dig at the woman’s authority. Sometimes patronizing phrases are used, such as “… well, of course, you don’t have the experience, but …” or “… I know this will be hard for you to understand, but …”
Women faced with these and other forms of communication sabotage should counter in an active yet friendly manner by saying, “Excuse me, but …” or a similar phrase to minimize the distraction and redirect the discussion back to the business at hand. Your goal is to gently regain control without hostility, confrontation, or impingement on the sensitive egos of the people involved. You’ll recover the authority that someone else tried to usurp from you and prevent that person from “delegitimizing” you.
Based on experiences of women I know and work with, I’ll make two definite statements. First, women are generally better communicators than men because they absorb more quickly and often read the emotions of the situation as well as the facts. With these skills, their “radar” can locate the neutral zone where a confrontation should be moved to normalize the conflict. Second, my advice to women is to be true to the best aspects of being feminine. A woman who acts like a man in the workplace is as silly as a man who acts like a woman in the workplace. Many women have felt, with some justification, that if they didn’t toughen up and act macho and be one of the boys, they would never get along. Women: Stay true to your identity. Whatever you do, keep in mind that, as in all communications, your tone of voice, the expression in your eyes, the attitudes conveyed by your face and body will determine how others interpret your words. And above all, keep your sense of humor and your sense of perspective.
Some of the best thinking I’ve seen on men and women in the workplace has been done by Susan E. Davis, a vice president of Harris Trust and Savings Bank in Chicago. In a speech at Ripon College on April 4, 1985, Davis said, “I have a simple thesis that it is the manager who is ‘bilingual’ who will be the successful manager of the eighties. By ‘bilingual,’ I mean someone who is comfortable with and adept at using the cultural values and styles of both men and women.” Davis went on to say that to be bilingual, men need to become more comfortable with more communication, and women with less communication. Men need to become more comfortable with decision making by consensus, women with unilateral decision making. Men need to become more comfortable with sharing responsibility, women with delegating responsibility. Men need to become more comfortable with corporate social responsibility, women with profit responsibility. Men need to become more comfortable with taking a long-term view, women with taking a short-term view. Men need to become more comfortable with less (blind) loyalty to superiors, women with more (consistent) loyalty to superiors. Men need to become more comfortable with acting on feelings, women with acting on ideas. And finally, men need to become more comfortable with appreciating gossip (legitimate complaints), and women with depreciating gossip (idle chatter).
Whether you’re male or female, go back over this list and evaluate yourself on its criteria. Are you overemphasizing—or underemphasizing—any of the qualities listed? Would your boss and/or coworkers see you as you see yourself? Do some hard thinking about this, because Davis has identified some of the qualities that can make or break your career. In my judgment, one of the most important qualities for success in the workplace is a good attitude.
MEASURE YOUR ATTITUDE
Here are excerpts from a self-assessment quiz relating to attitude that I’ve given to my staff. Score yourself from one (“I’m not good at this”) to five (“I’m outstanding at this”).
1. How good are you at confronting other people directly when there is a problem, without biasing the confrontation in a negative manner?
2. How often do you give excuses for things that go wrong? Do you pass the buck or blame others?
3. Are you a self-starter? Are you too passive or are you an active self-starter every day?
4. Do you gossip, spread rumors, or create problems among the work force?
5. How well do you communicate with your fellow employees, both in giving information and in receiving information?
6. How are you at teamwork, helping others, pitching in, and supporting the staff?
7. Are you a person who brings other people up or drags them down emotionally? What is your general enthusiasm level?
8. Do you accept criticism gracefully—neither overreacting or underreacting, but using the best of it to improve?
As with our other self-assessments, consider asking a friend, coworker, or boss to score you. The top score is forty. If you scored thirty-six or more, either you are a near perfect superstar or you might consider asking a couple of other coworkers to score you to see if they agree. Few people are consistently in this category. If you’re in the twenty-five to thirty-five range, you are above normal—doing a good job—but have some room for improvement. If you scored eighteen to twenty-four, you’d better start improving your attitude immediately. If your score is seventeen or less, no matter how well you’re doing in the other areas of your job, you’re in danger of being fired. You’ll need to improve your attitude dramatically—and quickly.
The qualities of emotional balance and a good attitude are as important to you as gas and oil are to your car. If a tune-up (or overhaul) is called for, get right on it.