Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Send “BIFF” to Washington!

Yesterday, Jon Huntsman declared he would stop campaigning for President. Too bad, he seemed like a reasonable person, by and large. I couldn’t agree more with his comment on the way out: “This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time.” (Several news sources) Of course, he threw in a few of his own attacks during his months in the campaign.

This year is expected to sink to the lowest depths of negative ads and hostile political speech in recent history. I think the U.S. public wants civility, but is fascinated by disdain and disrespect. If we were to turn off the news or refuse to vote for individuals who communicate this way it would immediately stop. But the opposite seems to be happening. People are eager to hear what politicians say about each other – the worst seems to get the most attention and Jon Huntsman couldn’t get attention by mostly being reasonable.

I think there should be a candidate out there who gets attention by using BIFF responses. These are statements that are Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.  This could fit well in the age of Twitter. A political BIFF could go like this: “I respect my opponent’s sincere efforts to solve this problem. He/she has suggested that we do ABC. But this idea has been studied and tried on several occasions in the United States and in other countries, and this idea failed repeatedly. Instead, we need to do XYZ. This isn’t about bad people or who’s smart or who cares. It’s about what works and what doesn’t work. Thank you.” 

Can you imagine certain candidates saying such a thing? Well, I would actually encourage them to do so. Some candidates say that they are not going to “go negative,” but then they still do – to the extreme. I think we need a candidate who can stay positive and encourage others to do so.

If you want to get attention without going negative, just avoid making it a personal attack. For example, don’t use the other person’s name - let the debates be about ideas. When the media pays more attention to the extreme disdainful remarks of others, have a sense of humor about it. Point out how being positive and talking about issues gets ignored. Blast the dynamics of superficiality, rather than specific people. Everywhere you go, point out that you refuse to make it personal. You can totally disagree with the ideas that are presented, and explain why your ideas make more sense. Point out that when some politicians compare others to Hitler or Stalin or the “worst ever _________ (you fill in the blank),” that this is a gross manipulation of the defensive side of the brain, which shuts down logical thought in favor of “fight or flight” responses. This manipulation should be obvious by now and has nothing to do with the issues. But don’t make it personal back. Be above all of that. Re-focus to the real issue and keep it simple.

People really do want to understand the issues and vote on them. I don’t understand the economy. I don’t know where jobs come from. Can someone really start explaining that, instead of saying it’s all Obama’s fault (reducing the complex issues of healthcare to “Obamacare” makes it personal and tells me nothing) or that Romney has nothing to offer because “he likes to fire people” (so personal and out of context it’s useless). These attacks really shut down logical thinking. Let’s talk about substance and policies. I find it ironic that it took young people in the streets to teach us about the 1% and the 99%. And that I learned how SuperPacs work from 10 minutes on a fake news show on Comedy Central.

See, you can be Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. If anyone wants to send a copy of my little BIFF book to Washington, let me know.

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author ofIt's All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns and Don't Alienate the Kids!. He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit: http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com


NCRC - Divorce & Family Law Mediation said...

"BIFF" should be required reading for all prospective candidates, right along with "It's all Your Fault"... of course few, if any, will see themselves in the books. Sigh.

P. Gay said...

As a Canadian I may not have the right to comment on electoral politics in another country, but it is my observation that the American public seems to be fixated on personal attacks. "Feuds" between celebrities get big media coverage; reality TV shows thrive on wildly personal attacks of the absolute lowest common denominator. Maury Povich; Jersey Shore; Jerseylicious; Teen Moms - the list goes on and on. Its a peculiarly American construct, and the politicians are playing into what resonates with the American public. Mr. Eddy is right - if people refused to listen to or vote for politicians employing the attack ad approach, it would stop. The fact that it continues says something about the "zeitgeist" of the times in the U.S.