A 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.
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