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Don’t Let Yourself Be “Chris Matthews-ed”

July 25th, 2014 by Bob Burg

Chris MatthewsA large part of influence is believability. Believability inspires trust. If you are believable once, you’ll get a shot at being believable again. If you are not believable just once, however (especially if it’s someone’s first exposure to you), the chances are excellent that you will not be considered such from that point on.

I recently witnessed a person make a somewhat dogmatic statement during a discussion. When asked to cite his source he began to hem and haw. When further pressed he grumbled something or other and got mad at the person who questioned him. Whether his statement was right or wrong, his lack of even basic source knowledge made him…unbelievable. In this case, “UN-believable” was not a good thing. :-)

The incident immediately brought to mind an interview conducted in May, 2008 by MSNBC TV Hardball host, Chris Matthews. In this segment, one of his guests was Los Angeles-based Radio Talk Show Host, Kevin James. As James began to bring up British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain’s well-known appeasement of Hitler during the lead-up to World War II, Matthews asked him to explain what he meant. In other words, how exactly did Chamberlain appease Hitler?

Beginning at 4:10 of the video and all the way through the 7:05 mark, James danced around the issue. Matthews, of course, refused to let him off the hook. Finally, it was determined that James wasn’t able to cite anything specific, most notably the infamous Munich Agreement.

Now, does that mean that Mr. James was wrong? Not at all. Chamberlain certainly did appease Hitler. And, if you listen to that part of the interview, James wasn’t incorrect in anything he said.

However, the fact that he couldn’t cite an example of this appeasement — one of the most famous in history — simply took away any type of credibility he might have had with Mr. Matthews’ audience.

Personally, being a Libertarian and believing in both free minds and free markets, I certainly don’t agree with most of the political ideas Mr. Matthews advocates. Nor do I enjoy his communication style. He’s an interrupter who at times can even be insulting.  But, you know what else Mr. Matthews is? He’s very intelligent; he’s very sharp. And, he’s not about to let someone get away with “not backing up their statements.”

I learned a hugely important lesson from that interview: to never place myself in a position where I can be “Chris Matthews-ed.”

In other words, if we’re going to make a statement of fact or attempt to persuasively advance our idea, we need to not only know what we’re talking about, we need to be able to communicate that we know what we’re talking about. Especially, if pressed to do so.

Of course, I believe we should do this with tact, kindness and respect for the other person, even if we do not agree. Part of being able to do that effectively is knowing — really knowing — from whence we speak.

Your thoughts?

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11 Responses to “Don’t Let Yourself Be “Chris Matthews-ed””
  1. Mitch Jackson said at 11:27 am on

    Bob,

    Agree with so many different thoughts in your article but will limit my comments to not being prepared. In my profession, this is one of the biggest mistakes I see people make. Far too often opposing counsel and expert witnesses will say something, on the record, that they probably immediately regret because they have no facts to back up the statement. When this happens, they need to be “Chris Matthews-ed” :-)

    Do you know where I see this type of thing all the time? Politicians and certain television “news stations” that focus on politics. The only difference is that by design, there isn’t anyone there to call them out on their misrepresentations of fact. Bottom line for all of us is caveat emptor.

  2. John Hatchell said at 11:30 am on

    Great article Bob! Chris really exposes himself as a fact finder of the belief of Mr James. Mr James could have simply responded as you have taught, ask a question with a question. This would have got Chris’s belief and got him talking, as he loves to do. Chris’s style of dominating interviews, is his niche, one would know this by watching a few episodes. Educate yourself with your audience, as you have said Bob , it would have been great prep work for Mr James. I agree if you speak truth to someone, have facts or your belief ability to people (credibility ) is diminished.

  3. Bob Burg said at 11:52 am on

    Mitch: Great point. Yes, I’d always heard that a lawyer – when cross-examining someone — should never ask a question to which he or she does not already know the answer. It would seem just as important for them to never make a statement that they cannot back up with knowledge. Thank you for adding great value to the conversation, as you always do! And, yes, I agree with you regarding your second paragraph, as well. Sometimes becomes nothing more than an “agreement fest” and based on emotion rather than fact.

  4. Bob Burg said at 11:55 am on

    John: Thank you! I appreciate your thoughtful comments and wise advice!

  5. Mitch Jackson said at 1:21 pm on

    Or a carefully scripted unilateral talking point marketing campaign with a specific agenda :-) It’s important for all of us to learn how to ask the tough questions to keep others honest and accountable. Have a fantastic weekend everyone!

  6. Bob Burg said at 3:24 pm on

    Mitch: Indeed!! :-) And, great weekend to you, as well!

  7. Susan Solovic said at 3:51 pm on

    Bob,
    That’s why I won’t discuss politics with people who espouse opinion as fact. Everyone has a right to believe the way they want, that’s why we live in a free country. But don’t push your opinions off as facts if you can’t substantiate your claim.

    During the last election cycle a family member fought with me about my choice for president. When I questioned her about where she got her information, she said, “Facebook.” Now that’s a excellent and reliable source.

    Your arguments lose credibility if you can’t substantiate them.

    Thanks for letting me vent and thanks for the excellent post.

  8. Bob Burg said at 3:54 pm on

    Susan: Indeed, so very important to be able to substantiate what we say. As the saying goes, “Whenever I say ‘the fact of the matter is…’ I’m about to give you my opinion.” LOL. And, that is too funny about Facebook. Yep…the source for everything true. ;-) Thanks for sharing with us, and for your kind words about the post!

  9. Bob,

    Excellent article. I find that I often hear people talking about ‘facts’ without being able to cite anything. It’s one of the reasons that I try to steer clear of arguments. It’s advice that I learned from Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. (I cited my source).

    Love your blog!

  10. Bob Burg said at 7:54 am on

    Mike: Thank you. So glad you enjoyed the post. And, thank you for your thoughtful and insightful feedback. Right on. And, yes, you cited what I believe is an *excellent* source. It’s certainly one of my all-time favorite books!

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