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3 Ways the Presidential Debates Can Help You Get What You Want

While I can't promise you're going to get what you want in a president on November 6, I can promise that if you pay attention this fall, you may very well find a way to get what you want in other areas of your life.
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portrait of happy young man...
portrait of happy young man...

While I can't promise you're going to get what you want in a president on November 6, I can promise that if you pay attention this fall, you may very well find a way to get what you want in other areas of your life.

As you tune in for the presidential debates beginning October 3, get the most out of them. In addition to listening for important information that will inform your vote, do something else: Watch for how that information is delivered.

We all have demands, pressures, and responsibilities. And in the middle of it all, we're trying to accomplish certain things -- get colleagues to agree on a course of action on a project, get the boss to agree to an increase, get your spouse to agree to a decision that affects the home or the family -- usually involving an expenditure of time or money or both. Success in any of those endeavors involves influencing someone to agree to something.

So, what influences people?

Ask the presidential candidates. Or, if you don't have them on speed-dial, watch the debates. These two individuals are up for the highest-profile job in the country, arguably the world. And from now through early November, there's no doubt they're getting counsel from people who know their stuff when it comes to influencing people with words.

One great example from four years ago, which both candidates, then-Senators Obama and McCain, used throughout the debates, is what I call "The Book Approach." Their answers to debate questions often fell into the following format:

  1. First, they repeated the central point of the question, which is like stating the title of a book. In this way, the viewers were clear on the general territory of the content that was to follow.

  • Second, they shared how many points they would be making in response to the question, which is like a table of contents telling us how many chapters will be in the book. The reasons for this are many. Chiefly, it sets expectations and creates organization. As a result, our need to be able to organize the information we're taking in is satisfied, we have more clarity on what is said, and the speaker sounds prepared -- like they've truly thought the issue through -- which means we're more likely to take their message seriously and less likely to dismiss it.
  • Third, when they moved on to a new point, they announced it ("...and the third factor is..."), just as, in a book, chapters are all clearly marked so we know when we're moving from one chapter to the next. This strategy ensures clarity and suggests preparedness. And at some level, probably subconsciously, we feel respected and understood by the speaker, who has clearly anticipated our need for that kind or organization so we don't have to scratch our heads while we try to figure out what they're actually saying. And that combination: clarity, the perception of preparedness and the feeling of respect, is a winning combination.
  • The next time you need to "make your case" to someone, whether at work or home or elsewhere, try this out. Especially in a conflict situation -- they're more likely to listen and less likely to interrupt if you use "The Book Approach." And here's a tip -- you'll be tempted to succumb to watering this down, removing any reference to numbers, and just saying things like "I have a few points" and "next" or "also." Don't. Use the numbers. That's the piece that really sets you apart and makes you sound like a person with a plan, someone to be reckoned with. Anything less, and you're just another part of the noise that's out there. And what's influential about that?

    Listen up in the debates -- who knows what tips you'll pick up from the pros? And don't stop there. Go beyond the debates and look at all of the media you're taking in -- media is full of clues that can help you be more effective in how you communicate, as well as other areas in life and at work. And let me know what you find! At MIMmedia we call these MIM's -- shorthand for "Media Into Motion" -- anything from media that you can use to propel you forward and improve how you think, talk, work, or live. Our philosophy is simple: We know that media influences us. We know that candidates running for office are using the best techniques they can find to influence our vote, and it's no secret that companies hire experts in the science of persuasion so they can influence us to buy products. So, why not make all of that media we're taking in useful to us? Let's take the information coming at us and use it not just to help us make big choices about candidates and smaller choices around cell service and fabric softeners -- let's use the abundant clues embedded in media to help us live our lives more effectively, and be more successful in achieving our goals. Using "The Book Approach" is a great place to start.

    Tool: "The Book Approach"
    Source: The Presidential Debates; Books (pretty much all of them)
    Applications: Sharing important information; Stating your case in a conflict situation

    For more by Mim Abbey, click here.

    For more on emotional intelligence, click here.