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Lauren's Blog

Thoughts, insights and ramblings on communication, public speaking, and what makes our work and businesses tick


Equivocation in the wake of Charlottesville

Equivocation in the wake of Charlottesville

It’s called “equivocation.”

What Trump was doing in those two press conferences since Charlottesville – the rhetoric he’s using is called equivocation.

Equivocation is a logical fallacy that uses vague language to hide meaning or to avoid committing to a point of view or stance. You see it used frequently in politics when a politician is trying to appeal to everybody, or – more frequently (and most certainly in this case) – afraid of upsetting a significant number of their supporters.

It also allows the equivocator to avoid counterarguments, to dance around hard questions like “was it terrorism” without giving a committed response.

Let’s look at just a couple of examples from the August 15th press conference*:

“There was terrible violence. On many sides. On many sides.”  Equivocation.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now.” Equivocation.

“So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” More equivocation, with a side of slippery slope fallacy thrown in for good measure.

Equivocation waters down statements made about a specific issue. By talking about violent acts coming from the counter-protesters in the same breath as those coming from the alt-right, it lets him avoid the real subject: that the rally and its resulting violence were driven by the organized actions of white supremacists.

Some of his equivocations centered on who was perpetrating the violence. Others were attempts to create uncertainty about the real point of the rally, namely the comments regarding the statue of Robert E. Lee. Recognize statements like these for what they are: misdirections and clumsy red herrings thrown out to lure our attention away from what really matters.

Trump’s brand of equivocation also seeks to absolve or diminish the actions of one group by pointing the finger at someone else and chanting, school-boyish, “see, but they’re doing it too!” It’s like a five-year-old tattling “Bently hit me!” after he first pushed Bently over and kicked sand in the kid’s face.

Trump and his mouthpieces will attempt to hide these equivocations by saying that he’s just telling the truth, looking at facts, or – to steal the tagline of one of Trump’s preferred sources of infotainment – presenting the “fair and balanced” view.

You don’t need to equivocate to look at both sides of a story, to tell the truth, or to look at facts. You don’t need to absolve one group of inappropriate or harmful actions to condemn another. With situations like this, it’s important to keep the focus where it belongs, clearly, plainly, and with absolute sincerity.** And in this case, with the abundance of videos evidence of what was going on at this event, it is very clear where our focus should be.

Within politics, equivocation is the tactic of cowards and deceivers. It’s the slippery way out, the easy road when a leader’s beliefs, fears, or position makes the hard path too intimidating to stomach. Sometimes it’s a difficult tactic to spot. In this situation, however, it stood at a podium and brayed angrily for all the world to see.

So see it, and recognize it for what it is.

 

*Click here to read a full transcript of the press conference.

**That was a big strike against Trump’s August 14th statement. His distinct personal style and habit of saying whatever pops into his head (along with the pride he takes in his undisciplined speeches) makes it painfully obvious when he’s reading something prepared for him by his staffers…and even more obvious when he doesn’t really buy what he’s reading.

News, Developments, and Upcoming Talks/Events

  • See me in action at Nerd Nite November 26 at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, AB! How To Lose Friends and Manipulate People: The Fine Art of Bamboozlement (title may change depending on my caprice). Click here for ticket information and to learn more about Nerd Nite.
  • Currently in development - my online digital course "Masterpiece Presentations: Your step-by-step method for creating high-impact presentations"


Monthly Archives: April 2017

How are your emails doing?

How are your emails doing?

Has anyone ever told you “don’t take this the wrong way, but…”

Where did your head immediately go upon hearing that statement? I’m willing to bet is was not to a place of productive objectivity.

Email seems to require the “don’t take this the wrong way” disclaimer more than any other form of communication. For many of us, email is the communication method we use more than any other during our workday. And considering how inundated with email we tend to be at the best of times, that leaves a lot of potential for taking things the wrong way.

Whenever we read or write something, we insert tone. Even if you think you are the most objective, neutral writer or reader in the world, you have mannerisms and context that affect the way you “hear” written words. And while you may think that the tone of your words is obvious, you can neither predict nor control the tone perceived by the person at the other end.

On top of misunderstood tone is our tendency to be more aggressive when communicating through a computer. There is something about that protective shield of the screen that lets our inner a**H#!^ out. With email, even nice, measured, even keeled people can be quick to anger. Whether or not we then react by sending a knee-jerk response (emphasis on “jerk”) or simply seethe with irritation for the rest of the day, our reaction to irritating emails can be disproportionately heated.

When dealing with email, a simple question can help get you back on track if a snippy tone or aggressive demand marches its way across your screen:

How can I make this interaction positive or productive?

Click to tweet: How can I make this interaction positive or productive?

It’s a straightforward question that can resolve a whole host of issues. If your main goal is to make an interaction positive or productive, you’ll start to look for ways of working with the person on the other side of the screen rather than butt heads with them through email exchange. Anger, hostility, or imagined offense can’t co-exist with positivity or productivity, so focusing your attention away from the negative and towards the productive can help you salvage the situation.

There are other questions you can ask yourself to keep a clear head about the email you send as well as those you receive.

If you are sending an email, ask: Would I say this to the person’s face?

It can be tempting to say what is on our mind, but you still need to ask “How can I make this interaction positive or productive?” If you wouldn’t say what’s in the email to the person’s face, it is unlikely that you are generating a positive or productive conversation. If you aren’t sure, try reading your email out loud so you can actually hear the words on the screen (what comes out is sometimes a revelation).

If you are receiving an email, ask: what useful information or questions are in this email?

When reading email, keep your focus on the useful parts of the email and gloss over any nasty tone or rude words. Try to read it with a relatively neutral voice. Don’t add inflection or tone that you are not 100% certain exists. If confronted with an overtly rude email, print the email and black out every word that does not productively contribute to the conversation. Then, only reply to the parts of the email that are NOT blacked out.

Also, never respond to an insulting email immediately. I fully realize that this is an obvious piece of advice, but it’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and rap out a inflammatory reply. Take several minutes to cool off, and always, always ask yourself – whether you are writing or reading an email – how can I make this interaction positive or productive?

You’ll be amazed at how well that question can decompress a lousy email!

 

Want some more email tips? I’ve devoted an entire chapter in my book to email! Get your copy of The Handy Communication Answer Book today, flip open to Chapter 5, and start doing email right!

The Handy Communication Answer Book is available through all major online retailers and is in a bookstore near you. Click here to view or order it on Amazon.

Confidence Isn’t Dominance

Confidence Isn’t Dominance

This post is an excerpt from a project I’m currently working on: The Little Book of Big Confidence     Here’s a pernicious myth about confidence:  Confident people are dominant. Utter hogwash. It’s easy to think that dominance indicates confidence. After all, people who speak louder than others, or take up all the space, or… Continue Reading

Spending more time worrying about your speech than working on it?
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