Category Archives: leadership

The Athenian Model of International Relations 

 

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The way that a diplomat looks at the world matters. Civilizations and, today, nation-states, have differing views on the way the world works. A Chinese approach to diplomacy takes a different time-horizon than many Western countries, who tend to be focused on the short-term.

But what happens when you see the world as a business deal, or a zero-sum negotiation? What are the moral implications? Writing in the New York Times, columnist David Brooks draws a line between the values that shape our worldview–with an eye toward a few of the U.S. administration’s leading figures.

Good leaders like Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt and Reagan understand the selfish elements that drive human behavior, but they have another foot in the realm of the moral motivations. They seek to inspire faithfulness by showing good character. They try to motivate action by pointing toward great ideals.
Realist leaders like Trump, McMaster and Cohn seek to dismiss this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them.
By treating the world simply as an arena for competitive advantage, Trump, McMaster and Cohn sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need when times get tough.

via David Brooks in The New York Times, The Axis of Selfishness

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Justin Trudeau’s New Tactic: Sock Diplomacy

 

Republicans adopted the red “power tie” in the 1980s and Jeremy Corbyn is known for “geography-teacher chic.” Building a political brand is smart, especially when it comes to international politics; you can cut through the chatter (and Twitterstorm) to get your agenda noticed above the fold.

From celebrating May 4th (key to Star Wars fans) to NATO, Eid Mubarak, and gay pride, Canada’s 23rd prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has both elevated the identity-building power stockings and also opened himself up to criticism that he’s superficial. Which is it?

It seems to have gotten him noticed by Angela Merkel at the NATO summit.

 

 

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But over all, the socks have been a source of, well, pride and applause on an international scale — a symbol both of Mr. Trudeau’s ability to embrace multiculturalism and of his position as a next-gen leader not bound by antiquated traditions and mores. Besides, they’re a good icebreaker. (See: Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany bending down to admire Mr. Trudeau’s choice at NATO.) After all, even when there’s no obvious theme to celebrate, Mr. Trudeau rarely chooses the plain pair, opting for argyle or stripes instead, among other patterns. When he met the chairwoman of Xerox, he was wearing a diamond style. She complimented him.

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Pascal on Persuasion

We learn from the 17th Century physics and philosopher, Blaise Pascal that when it comes to the art of persuasion, “slipping through backdoor of [someone’s] beliefs” is a surefire way to change minds. (Thanks, Brain Pickings).

In his book, Pensées , he writes:

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.

In other words…use their words to your advantage. (If this sounds like one of the classic definitions of diplomacy, you may be right.)

Put simply, Pascal suggests that before disagreeing with someone, first point out the ways in which they’re right. And to effectively persuade someone to change their mind, lead them to discover a counter-point of their own accord. Arthur Markman, psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, says both these points hold true.

“One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind is to lower their defenses and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out,” he says. “If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to co-operate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to co-operate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows co-operation.”

Source: To tell someone they’re wrong, first tell them how they’re right — Quartz

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Repetition Works (Even When You Are Wrong)

On how to persuade someone and the Illusory Truth Effect:

If you have prior knowledge of a subject, say, you’ve been studying greenhouse gas emissions for 30 years, someone just repeating that climate change isn’t real won’t have an effect on you. When you’re armed with knowledge, you can fight against the illusory truth effect. Still, repetition might make a statement feel true, but it can’t override knowledge that we have to the contrary. This doesn’t mean that the illusory truth effect doesn’t effect everyone, because you’re probably not an expert in everything

Source: Lifehacker “Evil Week” via BBC Future –  Convince Someone That Your Dumb Idea Is True By Simply Repeating It Over and Over

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Rhetorical Tactics of White House Women

But at the White House, one former staffer explained to the Washington Post, women started using a simple rhetorical technique to stop interruptions and reinforce points made by other women. When a woman made a good point, another woman would repeat it, and give credit to the originator. This made the idea harder to ignore, or to steal. The women called the technique “amplification.”

“We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it,” one of president Barack Obama’s former aides told the Post. “It was an everyday thing.” She said that Obama noticed and began calling on women more often.
The women, perhaps unconsciously, had noticed two things. First, that repetition is one of the simplest ways of reinforcing any point—which can be seen through history across oratory and poetry. But secondly, that simply hammering a point home by repeating it oneself has limitations, especially in a competitive environment where everyone is clamoring to be heard. Some researchers have hypothesized that women are interrupted more because their conversational style tends to be collaborative, where men tend to be more competitive.

QZ.com

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Booklist | Rhetoric in Public Life from the head of NYT/former leader of BBC

The book had me at the sub-title; what’s not to love about a book exploring political rhetoric from the former head of the BBC/current leader of NYT? Even better: the book comes from a series of lectures on the “art of public persuasion” Oxford. Good stuff.

Beyond British and American politics, Thompson covers a wide range of additional subjects. He discusses the classic Greek elements of rhetoric, including logos (argument), ethos (the character of the speaker) and pathos (emotion), along with other Greek rhetorical concepts. He talks about the punchy, Trump-like language of Vladimir Putin and the theatrics of Silvio Berlusconi. A whole chapter is built around George Orwell’s famous essay “Politics and the English Language.” He punctuates his discussions with sweeping summaries like this one, in reference to social media: “The art of persuasion, once the grandest of the humanities and accessible at its highest level only to those of genius — a Demosthenes or a Cicero, a Lincoln or a Churchill — is acquiring many of the attributes of a computational science. Rhetoric not as art but as algorithm.”

Source: Mark Thompson’s New Book on the Use and Misuse of Rhetoric – The New York Times

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Chas Freeman:  Groupthink Foe or Political Firebrand?


Speaking out can cost you politically. Consider Chas Freeman, a career foreign service officer who served as DCM in Beijing and Bangkok, PDAS for African Affairs,and US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

In 2009 he was nominated as chairman of the National Intelligence Council in the Obama Administration, but the appointment was scuttled due to fierce opposition owing to his views on the Arab/Israeli conflict.

Chas Freeman’s selection … is notable not just for his surprising (and, to some, disturbing) even-handedness about the Middle East. The man is one of a rare breed: He is a Washington insider, and yet he is also a ferociously independent thinker, a super-realist, an iconoclast, a provocateur and a gadfly. He has, as I wrote in a Niemanwatchdog.org article about him in 2006, spent a goodly part of the last 10 years raising questions that otherwise might never get answered — or even asked — because they’re too embarrassing, awkward, or difficult.

For him to be put in charge of what Rozen calls “the intelligence community’s primary big-think shop and the lead body in producing national intelligence estimates” is about the most emphatic statement the Obama Administration could possibly make that it won’t succumb to the kind of submissive intelligence-community groupthink that preceded the war in Iraq.

Source: Watchdog Blog Blog Archive » A One-Man Destroyer of Groupthink

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A New Frame for American Power

 

Facing “a world in disarray”–the term used by Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. President has some work to do. On his recent trip to Laos, however, President Obama draws from his rhetorical toolbox to reframing the discourse on U.S. power and foreign policy history. His critics see it as weakness, or worse. But speaking truthfully about American past misdeeds can be a powerful strategy for building influence.

Mr. Obama’s series of speeches reviewing historical trouble spots highlight several unusual facets of his worldview. They fit within his larger effort to reach out to former adversaries such as Cuba and Myanmar. They assert his belief in introspection and the need to overcome the past. And they highlight his perspective that American power has not always been a force for good.

According to Jennifer Lind of Dartmouth College, reported in the NYT:

none of Mr. Obama’s comments constitute apology. … Rather, these speeches touch on a longstanding domestic political divide over the nature of American power.

“It gets back to this issue of national identity,” she said. Some Americans, including Mr. Obama, emphasize democratic ideals of humility and self-critique. Others believe American power is rooted in unity, celebration of positive deeds and shows of strength.

“Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for,” Mr. Obama said in March in Argentina, referring to a 1976 military coup that had received tacit American approval. “The United States, when it reflects on what happened here, has to examine its own policies, as well, and its own past.”

Source: Obama, Acknowledging U.S. Misdeeds Abroad, Quietly Reframes American Power – The New York Times

This strategy strengthens soft power–even as the Obama Doctrine has relied on hard power significantly.

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Booklist | The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner

Gaining and using power is an old subject–and at the core of politics diplomacy, and leadership. So this new book by Dacher Keltner upends the traditional Machiavellian interpretation by arguing that you become more powerful through “empathy, collaboration, open mindedness, fairness, and generosity.” That’s the good news.

The bad news? Obtaining power sows the seeds for our downfall.

This is the “paradox” of Keltner’s title: it is true that being nice is the best path to power, but achieving power reliably turns people nasty. “The seductions of power,” as he puts it, “induce us to lose the very skills that enabled us to gain power in the first place.” Research demonstrates that people who feel powerful are more likely to act impulsively: to have affairs; to drive inconsiderately; to lie; to argue that it is justifiable for them to break rules others should follow; and, in one entertaining study by Keltner and his colleagues, to steal sweets from children. Rich people even shoplift more than the poor. All in all, accumulating power seems to trigger a tendency to self-absorption: in experiments, when people are asked to draw the letter E on their own foreheads so that others can read it, powerful people are more likely to draw it the right way round to themselves, and backwards to onlookers. In a literal sense, they no longer see the world from other people’s perspective.

Source: The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner review – how success triggers self-absorption | Books | The Guardian

 

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Terry Gross on How to Talk to Anyone

Diplomats, salespeople, missionaries, and journalists all talk to people. Some do it better than others. But nobody does it as well as Terry Gross, the NRP interviewer par excellance–who kept me informed and entertained as I worked a painting conservation job in college, swabbing dirt inch-by-inch across a gigantic, room-filling canvas. Foam-covered 1980’s era headphones attached to a Sony AM/FM/cassette Walkman were my lifeline to a world of fascinating ideas and people, thanks to Gross.

So when I saw this piece by Susan Burton on the art and craft of WHYY in Philadelphia’s master interviewer I wanted to see what could be learned. One insight: it takes a lot of work (and a little luck) to get a “real moment” in a hard-earned conversation, and it can be uncomfortable:

When the interview ended, Gross and her producers asked themselves, ‘‘Are we going to keep that in the edit?’’ Yes, they decided: ‘‘Maybe there’s not a really satisfactory, conclusive answer,’’ but ‘‘it felt like a real moment.’’ Gross went on: ‘‘Even if the real moment isn’t somebody being really honest and forthcoming and introspective, a real moment of friction, a real moment of tension, is still a real moment.’’

Occasionally the ‘‘real moments’’ can be awkward for Gross. In July, in an interview with the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, Gross began laughing in response to a story he told about being yelled at by a teacher. ‘‘See, it sounds like you’re laughing because, like, it’s funny if you’ve never been in the environment,’’ Coates said. Some on social media pegged Gross as a clueless white lady. But the exchange was constructive. Gross was simply reacting, and then listening as Coates explained his perception of her reaction. In doing so, he illuminated an experience of growing up in a culture of fear and violence.

Source: Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up – The New York Times

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