Politics and sports provide abundant opportunities to discover the actions of the best and worst persuaders. Many of them go through a rise and fall in their following. They take take a strong (often extreme) stand on a policy, politician or worldview. They gain a following until they do something that hurts their credibility. When they lose their credibility their influence and persuasive ability plummets.
Why Influence Fades
In politics, the biggest hit on influence comes from credibility. These influencers fall into a familiar trap that goes something like this:
- Influencer attacks the politician or policy causing pain, suffering and anguish to a group he represents
- Influencer gains support from hard core supporters first, followed by less zealous and casual supporters
- As more details about “the opposition” emerge, influencer continues the attack
- If any of the details are positive, the influencer either ignores or twists them to appear negative
- The influencer falls into the common trap of “If I admit even one tiny aspect of this politician or policy is good then it contradicts my entire belief system”
- Because of this belief, the influencer refuses to acknowledge anything that might be a threat to his or her overall position
- The more moderate supporters begin to recognize the misinformation and hypocrisy. The influencer loses credibility
- Only the hardcore supporters of the influencer remain, not enough to hold any real power but enough to stay in business for a while
- Two options are possible. He can adjust his behavior to focus only on the extreme supporters. This action gives up on mainstream support but stakes out a smaller but stable role for himself. Or, he “clarifies” the extreme views to win back the mainstream, losing all his supporters in the end.
You Can See This Everywhere
We see the same type of behavior in sports too, particularly when it comes time to vote for awards. Sportswriters often pick and choose the criteria that support their guy. They also pick and choose criteria that justifies why the other side doesn’t deserve to win.
The corporate world also faces its challenges. Opposing ideas and competing departments often see each other as enemies. Their ideas must be shot down even if they’re worthy. They interpret ideas from someone else an attack on their own value and worth.
Here’s the key to remember
Recognizing a positive aspect of an opposing view, especially when it’s obvious, does not mean you have to change your entire worldview You can say that Donald Trump’s negotiation with Boeing is a good thing without accepting him as a whole. You can say that Hillary Clinton’s support of women’s rights throughout her life yielded positive benefits without accepting her whole platform.
Recognizing an obvious truth about your opposition may appear like you’re surrendering your values and beliefs. The hardcore supporters with tunnel vision they may brand you as weak. They expect you to defend “the” position at all costs. To this small (yet loud) segment of your audience, giving in just an inch gets you labeled as weak minded.
But to the majority of your reasonable minded audience, recognizing something positive about your opposition makes you credible. Once credible, you gain the attention and respect of people who may disagree with you. Once you win their attention and respect, persuasion and influence become possible.