Hearing and watching TV news in the background as I dress for work every morning reminds me of soap operas that I occasionally tuned in on a sick day from school as a teenager: surprise revelations, harsh words, high drama, despicable characters, and never-ending storylines.
The least we can do is learn by watching the performers on our TV screens every day:
- Credibility can be dashed in a flash. There is little distinction between lies, half-truths, omissions, and cover-ups. True, but incomplete statements can lead to false conclusions. Literal truth, when offered without complete explanations, can lead to literal lies. Lying happens in numerous ways. Intentions stand center stage. Ultimately, questionable intentions cast doubt on character—and all future communication and actions.
- Body language often trumps words. Consider the face of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as her photo flitted across your TV screen after she learned that the US had tapped her personal cell phone. Recall the body language of the senators at they questioned those involved in the ObamaCare rollout. Remember the congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle as they faced the cameras nightly to rant, rave, and blame each other about the US government shutdown in October. With the volume turned off your TV, you could have composed a soundtrack that matched fairly closely the words coming out of their mouths.
- Metaphors make a point memorable. Representative Marsha Blackburn capsuled her comment to Kathleen Sebelius this way in the recent hearings about ObamaCare: “Some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari. Some people like to drink out of a red Solo cup, not a crystal stem. You’re taking away their choice.” That metaphor made her point crystal clear—and worked its way into media stories across the country.
- Arrogance works against you. No matter whether you agree or disagree with a speaker’s point of view, a show of arrogance tends to turn listeners off. Arrogance comes through in innumerable ways: body language (smirks, struts, eye rolls, uplifted chin, steepled hands, gunslinger stance), impatience, constant interruptions, overlapping, refusal to answer clear questions, defiance of authority, a closed mindset.
- Opinion falls to facts. For years, advertisers depended on the uninformed to buy whichever brand name they recognized. Bosses depended on employees to do as they were told. Politicians expected an uninformed electorate to return them to office. But since the Internet and social media have made more and more information accessible online—and since more and more people have become active online—that dynamic has changed. Advertisers are obliged to present results from studies. Bosses must deal with whistleblowers. Politicians have to confront facts and respond to feedback from daily polls.
- Personal stories sway emotion. Representatives from both sides of the aisle show up nowadays to most every event armed with stories from constituents about how they either hate or love the Affordable Care Act, … about how taxes are crushing their small businesses or how the economy is boosting their business, … about why we need stronger gun laws or fewer gun laws. Why? Emotion drives action.
If Congress ever decides to charge us for the communication lessons they teach, maybe we could pay off the national debt.
Do you have other lessons you’ve picked up from watching national and international leaders interact? If so, comment in the box below.