What's a Respectful Way to Defend My Beliefs?
When I became a political commentator, I looked for a refresher course in persuasion. Unfortunately, Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion, by Jay Heinrichs, had not yet been published. (I highly recommend it.) I did stumble across the Monty Python "Argument" sketch ("This isn't an argument." "Yes it is." "No it isn't." "Yes it is."), which sounds a lot like our current political discourse.
I approach every argument as if I'm trying to get out of a speeding ticket: with humor and respect. I listen. And when things get tense, I pretend I'm in a restaurant, debating what to order. Public policy isn't coleslaw versus French fries, but persuasion starts with respecting that there are many valid choices. Another trick? Slow down. Powerful speech can come in at around 120 words per minute—angry or nervous speech can be about twice that. When all else fails, make a joke. There's no better tool for reaching across the "I'll." Yes, I just said that. A little pun, even a bad one, goes a long way.
Donna Brazile is a syndicated columnist, political strategist, and contributor to CNN and ABC News.