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Better Business Communication Results
Why we are unwilling to ask for explanations
This unwillingness to ask for explanations is a form of vanity that isn’t easy to cure. Not many people feel comfortable asking for a particular statement be explained in simpler words. The rest of the audience may be impatient with them or may even laugh at their stupidity. Moreover, the person asking for a simpler explanation is exposed to pitying contempt and worse from the statement’s speaker. Few people have the courage to stand up to such tricks of suggestion and so, provided the original statements are made with a sufficiently impressive air of confidence, they are seldom challenged.
Confidence is an essential factor in suggestion. Half-hearted utterances, suggesting humility in the speaker, command neither attention nor respect. They can be brushed aside with the greatest of ease by any one who is confident and self-assured enough.
But if mere repetition of an idea doesn’t guarantee its truth, then neither does the assurance of the person or institution making the repeated asser-tion. We should be on guard against accepting a statement as true for no other reason than that it is made with the greatest assurance by a confident speaker. Unless we want to risk being duped, we should always strive to ask ourselves what evidence of the truth of the statement has been given by the speaker or writer who makes it.
Assurance as a substitute for evidence is particularly effective if it is used to bolster up exaggerations. An opponent of free trade may, for example, be prepared to accept the proposition that some tariffs and restrictions may result in higher prices. If, however, you can command enough assurance, you may be able to force him to accept the exaggerated proposition that all tariffs result in higher prices. Sometimes a controversialist may employ exaggeration plus assurance for the purpose of trapping his opponent into maintaining a position that is false and therefore open to attack.
Such dialectical tricks are particularly rife in political controversy. Two people, A and B, may be debating the merits of the communist experiment in Cuba. A may say that all Cubans are fools and that every so-called attempt at socialism in Cuba has meant that the crooks feathered their nests at the expense of the fools.
Such a statement is clearly an exaggeration and could most easily be disproved, if B kept his head, by the simple process of pointing to a particular case in which Cubans had shown they were neither fools nor crooks in the organization of their affairs. Unfortunately, B does not keep his head, but infuriated by the gross assurance and prejudiced exaggeration of A, he may be and frequently is trapped into making equally gross exaggerations with equal assurance. He will begin hotly to maintain that no attempt at socialist organization in Cuba has failed, that every experiment has proved a success.
A at once has B at his mercy. He has only to point out one experiment which has failed (and he probably has no difficulty in doing that) and B's case falls to the ground. It is too late for B to retort that A committed the same offence: he is too busy trying to defend the impossible position he’s put himself into; too busy, that is, trying to escape from the trap A has engineered. His efforts usually only succeed in entangling him the more hopelessly, and A is able to walk off with a striking but quite undeserved victory.
Back to Use of pompous words : On to Use of false humility
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