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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why & How To To Deal With Your Detractors

Illustrative photo of bullying via Wikimedia

When someone is hitting you, and you cannot escape their punches, you have to hit them back.

Watch Hillary Clinton at the Benghazi hearing - fast forward to 1:25. 



She is getting hammered with questions from Sen. Ron Johnson. He outright accuses the Administration of lying to the American public, putting her on the defensive.

"We were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that -- an assault sprang out of that -- and that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that."

But just when you think she's down for the count, Clinton turns the tables right back on Johnson:

"With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference – at this point, what difference does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.

Clinton could have chosen to respond very literally to the Senator, that is to keep justifying and justifying the Administration's actions. But instead she demonstrated the #1 principle of dealing with a detractor: Attack, attack, attack - never defend. 

Here's another video clip that illustrates the "attack, never defend" principle with some added and effective twists. The topic is clemency for Edward Snowden. The combatants are journalists Glenn Greenwald (obviously, pro as he actually assisted Snowden's cause) and Ruth Marcus (con).



What's interesting about this example is the triple-punch Greenwald uses to go after Marcus personally, as opposed to simply making his points and letting Marcus make hers.

The first thing he does is dehumanize her by calling her part of the Washington establishment, the elite, who supposedly protect their own. (He also calls her an "Obama loyalist" -- bam, as they say, right in the kisser.) It is all about "us versus them":

"That's what people in Washington do. They would never call on someone like James Clapper, who got caught lying to Congress, which is a felony, to be prosecuted. They only pick on people who embarrass the government and the administration to which they are loyal like Edward Snowden. It's not about the rule of law."

Having knocked her off her feet, Greenwald asks Marcus a difficult question - whether she thinks James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, should be prosecuted for lying to Congress.

Marcus tries to avoid the question by calling him out over rudeness.

"You know what? I let you make your point. Why don't you let me make my point, OK?"

Which is odd. Because she's already answered the question, sort of:

"I think James Clapper lied to Congress and I don't think that he should be in office, and I wrote a column saying exactly that."

Marcus makes it worse by arguing that she doesn't need to answer the question. She hides behind legalese:

"No, I don't actually need to answer that question because then we're going to get involved in a whole conversation about what the exact elements of perjury are."

Finally she says, yes, he should be prosecuted, but again hides behind technical-speak:

"...if federal prosecutors believe that they could make a case under the perjury statute."

TV arguments are won in simplicity and not lawyer-talk, especially when the person using that talk is a journalist.

When you consider how much trouble Snowden is actually in, the feat Greenwald pulled off is quite amazing. He in fact won that round. Because he made Marcus -- whose arguments were technically reasonable -- look like an elite, lying apologist.

Greenwald succeeded against the legal detractors by

1) Exhibiting righteous anger while seeming sort of hopeful and upbeat - like he is serving a cause. (Marcus in turn seems like a negative sour person, sort of like a scolding teacher with nothing really positive to add to the conversation.)

2) Turning the issue into "little guy vs. big guy,"

3) Going directly and personally after his debate opponent with enough factual basis that it made sense to do so

4) Creating drama sufficient that the TV host let him take control of the interview. Not to mention that

5) Taking up a lot of airtime - the clip runs about 12 minutes!

Some people worry that by acknowledging their detractors they are giving them credit. But that is absolutely not the case.

When someone is attacking your reputation, they are challenging you to a duel. Are you going to let them slice your throat off with the sword?


Heck, no.

Some people shy away because they feel subconsciously guilty. They've made mistakes. They can't "prove" that everything they've done is right.

That's ridiculous.

Make a decision: Do you believe in yourself? 

  • If you do, go after the other guy. 
  • If you don't, you can and should throw in the towel and go home.

The task at hand is to face yourself and become comfortable with being human.

Then speak the truth - your truth - in every environment, regardless of where it leads.

Remember: Not everything is so black and white. You've got to trust your own perspective.

* All opinions my own. Not a political commentary.