James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA

The 2012 Presidential primary campaign has been in the ditch, the dirt, and swimming around the edge of the bowl, circling the drain so to speak, for its entire length.  It might be a useful time before we get into the actual campaign to clarify, comment on, and suggest the kind of behaviors that might make for a more substantive, useful, and constructive campaign, if anybody really wants one.

Winning Principles

To win something, we must clearly advocate what we are for, define what needs to be changed, state what is reasonable and necessary to achieve our objective, and give up or provide something truly meaningful as an incentive, in return for the base and public support.  Here are some constructive guiding principles for a victory the public can respect.

  1. Be candid, open, aboveboard, and talk about what you know to be true.
  2. Be positive, use positive language; avoid negative language and demeaning or discrediting accusations
  3. Make sensible, believable arguments.
  4. Answer all the questions, be responsive, acknowledge the obvious.
  5. Inform, entertain, inspire, surprise.
  6. Provide options.  Give people choices.
  7. Show solutions with empathy.
  8. Make the actions required, or decisions needed, obvious and more in the interests of those affected by the decisions and actions, than the proposer.
  9. Acknowledge and apologize for mistakes promptly and sincerely; an apology is an individual act of integrity.
  10. Promptly correct or clarify anything that is confusing, inaccurate, wrong, abusive or damaging.

Winning Behaviors

  1. Listen; demonstrate that you’ve heard.
  2. De-escalate, detoxify.
  3. Constantly seek incremental agreement, even though the smallest of details.
  4. Make constructive suggestions rather than criticize or be negative.
  5. Behave with dignity, integrity, disavow those who don’t.
  6. Let those who oppose make their own case; speak only for yourself.
  7. Start with integrity and end with trust.
  8. Target every decision and action to reduce the amount of critics, opponents, contention, confrontation, and questions needing answers.

Confusing Strategies

Unlike losing strategies, these approaches mystify supporters and opponents alike; distract the sincere and the insincere, slow down the process and muddy up the objective:

  1. Establish front group coalitions of organizations, companies and individuals who seem to have common interests, but their name and purpose fail to match their actions and stated goals.
  2. Concoct events, behaviors, and platforms that seem out of tune or out of place with the goals to be accomplished.
  3. Whine about the unfairness of it all.
  4. Use weak, transparent, and wobbly arguments.
  5. Be negative, argumentative, and accusatory.
  6. Trivialize the things others rely on or believe in.
  7. Behavior, language, and actions that irritate, agitate, or alienate.
  8. Force people to make unnecessarily negative decisions, against their own interests
  9. Deceive, mislead, demean
  10. Be harsh, confrontive, and negative

Losing Strategies

There are certain mistakes all over-zealous advocates tend to make.  They are generally negative, pretty obvious, attract the attention of journalists and otherwise neutral observers, and give energy to the opposition.

  1. Discredit public servants and public officials
  2. Make silly, irrelevant claims
  3. Fudge the truth
  4. Underrate people’s intelligence
  5. Insult people’s intelligence
  6. Disparage things people trust or rely on
  7. Fail to acknowledge your own negatives
  8. Intentionally misstate, mischaracterize, or misframe
  9. Lie

Winston Churchill’s famous characterization of Americans remains as true today as when he spoke it before a joint session of Congress in the early 1950’s.  He said, “The world loves America because Americans will always do the right thing, after trying everything else first.”  Hopefully, we’ve done all the trying of other approaches.  It’s time to try for victory through civility and integrity.