Trischel’s two principles of communication © reflect the realities of getting information across to our listeners; having it accepted and, hopefully, acted upon.

If you recall the second one is to engage the audience personally by applying the arts of persuasive speaking; and the first is to create your credibility by the use of comprehensive logical arguments.

In presenting those arguments we will rely on facts, figures, logic and reason. In fact we become data presenters – but we can only get to that stage after we have operated as a data processer first.  And that’s where the fairies come in.

If we hold a passionate opinion; and if that opinion is not readily accepted by the mainstream, we can often become selective data processers by manipulating the data and presenting it in such a way that it works on our audience’s emotions rather than their intellect.

This may not always be a bad thing if we recognise that there is reasonable evidence held by our opponents but we need our listeners to go beyond those arguments and look at a different picture.  We can do that by emotive speaking and still hold our credibility.

But there are cases, and an increasing number of them, where passionate people, filled with good intentions and with the best will in the world will manipulate figures, misrepresent outcomes and ignore alternatives and all with the deliberate intention of persuading the listeners to their point of view.  In such matters these speakers lose their credibility as soon as their audience is exposed to the opposite argument or to the undoctored information.

If we are to be wary of not being taken down the garden path, before we even understand what the garden is all about, we need to be able to recognise some of the tricks that passionate people use to convince us of the inevitability of their point of view.

First, because raw data can be confusing and misleading – we need to present the information in a way that our audience will relate to.  This is simply good communication.  For instance most people have difficulty in relating to figures – 300 metres is difficult to put into perspective – but say it is almost twice the length of a soccer field and most people will have a mental image that will work for them.

Likewise large numbers in isolation can confuse us, which one of us can really comprehend what 3 trillion really amounts to? This is why when talking of national debts it is easier to understand the amount if we break it down into more relevant numbers.  A national debt of 15 billion will cost each household in this particular nation a further $1,200 per year. (These figures are used for explanation only and do not relate to any specific national debt – just so you know!)

While we cannot really put any real interpretation onto the 15 billion, we are only too well aware of the effect of another $1,200 coming out of our annual budget.

Again when we survey large numbers to bring out public opinion we could put it into stark figures which may or may not be clearly understood; or we can put it into a much easier format.  Instead of saying 7 million out of 13 million voted ‘Yes’ we say ‘Over half the population surveyed supported the proposal’.

Which is technically correct, but doesn’t give any indication of how close the vote really was.

And this is where the fairies come in – because the passionate people who oppose the proposal can use the same figures to support their case – “Nearly half the population surveyed rejected the proposal.”  This, technically, is wrong, but close enough to be useful if you are also in favour of rejecting the proposal.

The differences are in the qualifiers, ‘Over’ gives a mental image of being very much a greater number; while ‘Nearly’ brings a sense of ‘almost the same.’

Look at how these work in normal conversation ‘He is an over-achiever!’ or ‘I am overworked’ – against ‘Come one everyone, we’re nearly there.’ and ‘I was nearly hit by a car.’

The secret is in the mental image of the way we interpret these words that can be used to confuse the issue.

Another way of presenting facts inaccurately is to make unsupported assumptions – ‘We all know …’ when many of us don’t; then there’s ‘Most intelligent people support …’ where we are left wondering (if we are wise) how many is ‘most’; and what do they mean by ‘intelligent’ – cynics might answer that by saying ‘Intelligent people to them are all those that agree!”

The alternative to this is to accuse your opposition of being ‘deceitful’ ‘ignorant’ or even downright ‘stupid’  thereby assigning yourself the intellectual and moral high ground.

And finally, there is one other method the fairies use to mislead us – and that is to use negative percentages to demand positive actions.

“3% of the nation has a problem with gambling – we must ban something”

If this is declaimed with passion and conviction, the audience will respond emotionally and say ‘YES!’

With a wave of their magic wand the fairies have made to disappear the 97% of people, the majority, who do not have a problem.

Certainly, those in trouble need to be helped – but the question of credibility comes when the answer is not so much to help the misfortunate but to impose on the larger group restrictions not warranted by the facts.

We are facing a number of choices in our world today, many of them being propounded by people of good intention for what they consider the very best reasons.  When a group passionately espouses a course of action, which they truly believe is in the best interests of us all they can fall into the worst tricks of the deceiver.

But if they intend to be taken seriously, they must convince with evidence, then engage us in emotional appeals.

At the moment there are some who rely too heavily on the emotional rhetoric to argue their case; but in the communication process this leaves them open to be accused of lack of credibility.

Whatever your position, whatever your argument, whatever your cause – you must be seen as a credible source of information or your case will fail.  It may not be until the cold light of day highlights the inconsistencies – but as someone else has said – it will happen.

Create your communication from the facts and then engage with the emotion- that way you will be credible and eventually successful.

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