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Are you afraid of simple words?

People who care for the truth tend to shy away from simple statements. Manipulators don’t.

Which leads into a vicious circle.

Because the manipulators’ shameless use of simplistic statements lead the truth-seekers to get even more skeptical of simple statements. Which, of course, leads the manipulators to use even more of them as now that the counterpart is all complex messages, their simple statements can have an even greater effect.

The solution is not to elaborate in ever more detail why the manipulators are wrong. This would only feed the vicious circle.

The solution is to put in extra effort to find simple statements that are a true representation of the facts.

Let’s say that simpler: Find simple statements that are true.

Manipulators invent simple statements to craft their truth. Truth-seekers uncover simple statements that represent the truth.

Here’s the thing: If you care not only for the truth but also for spreading the truth, looking for this kind of simple statements is one of the most valuable investments you can make.

The misuse of stories

Stories are powerful.

Which is why they are often misused. The more emotional, the greater the potential for misuse.

A couple of years back, at a conference, I listened to a speech about water problems in mega cities. The speaker started with a story about a poor family who suffered some severe diseases due to contaminated water. It was a touching experience. She really made us feel the pain.

Which earned her harsh criticism during the coffee break.

Because it turned out that she had been misleading us. The problem: The story wasn’t representative of the situation. Not at all.

It was a story that was meant to evoke emotions (which it did). But it was a dishonest story in the sense that the speaker had picked a very specific, very special situation that painted an unusually dark picture. One that wasn’t representative of the situation at all. It was purely there to evoke emotions while not making the proper point.

That’s a crucial difference: The best stories are such that they are representative of the whole picture despite highlighting only a specific part of the picture.

Skilled communicators pick stories that paint a vivid picture.

Great communicators pick representative stories that paint a vivd picture. A story that is powerful because it evokes emotions and captures the essence of the complete picture.

The Bullshitter’s Playbook: Name frames

Bullshitters are going to bullshit. There’s nothing you can do about that. But what you can do is to show up prepared so you spot the moves they make to bullshit you.

For example, when they use “name frames”.

Like, say, the “China flu”.

The “China flu” was Donald Trump’s awful name for COVID-19. Looking from his perspective it was a brilliant name as it framed the problem in easy to understand terms that already had a meaning.

How?

Back then, people didn’t know what COVID was. Therefore, the disease remained kind of abstract and thus, rather scary. Calling it “a flu” made it concrete and way less scary. Everyone knew what a flu was, so actually not that big of a deal, right?

Also, by associating it to China, the name frame waived responsibility and instead cast blame on someone else. Calling it the China flu, Trump basically said: Not my fault. Don’t look at me, look at them! It’s their flu.

Essentially, by choosing that name, Trump managed to frame a complete story in two words – on his terms.

Which made it way easier to spread the story.

The opposite, i.e. the lack of a compelling name that frames the concept, is among the reasons why many good ideas fail. When a project is defined by a “20-page project proposal”, or when an idea requires going through a “30-slide PowerPoint deck”, and when there’s no easy way to summarize these 30 slides, that idea won’t spread easily.

More importantly, when others replace the 30 pages with a simple name frame, one that’s totally not in your favor, let’s say “The Lame Duck”, it might already be game over for your idea.

So, what exactly is a name frame? It’s a name that you invent in order to talk about a (potentially complex) topic in a simple way by attaching it to the frame’s meaning.

Bullshitters love that. They use it to make it easier to speak about their idea and color the discussion in their favor.

What name frames have you come across?

How to outcompete bullshitters

Whatever industry you’re in, you will be competing with bullshitters: people who promise big but don’t bother whether they can actually deliver big (if at all).

I see two theoretical ways to outcompete bullshitters out of which only one is practical:

First, patience. The one problem that bullshitters can’t solve is trust. Sooner or later, people will start to discover that the bullshitters just, well, bullshit.

However, that doesn’t really solve your problem. For two reasons: First, the Lucy approach – which basically means that they will try ever harder to bullshit even better. Second, the next bullshitter is waiting around the next corner.

Therefore, I think it’s best to just face this: There’s always going to be bullshitters around trying to catch your customer.

Which leaves the second approach as maybe the only way to outcompete bullshitters: Become so good at telling true stories that they resonate better than their bullshit stories.

What was the boldest promise you ever made to a customer?

Why didn’t you make it bolder?

Bold promises are a competitive advantage. Too often, though, we leave that advantage to the bullshitters.

Bullshitters don’t care for keeping their promises. They care for getting the deal. And so, they will make whatever promise their customers need to hear to close the deal, the bolder the better. These marketers are super creative at coming up with excuses why they couldn’t keep the promise. For them, it’s about the deal, not the promise.

And yet, it’s who you have to compete with. The good news is this: When you make bold promises, you care to actually keep them. Instead of being creative with excuses, you get creative with keeping them.

Honest marketers often struggle with making bolder promises because they are not 100% sure to be able to keep them. The problem is when you keep this 100% in your comfort zone.

So, here’s a challenge: Which promise can you make outside of your comfort zone? What would need to be true so that you can be sure to keep it?

What’s the boldest promise you can make?

I’m speaking of bold promises that you actually intend to keep.

I mean, it’s easy to make bold promises when you don’t intend to keep them, right? It’s also easy to keep little promises when they are not bold at all.

It’s the combination that is hard: Make a bold promise and confidently keep it.

Bullshitters don’t care about keeping promises. That’s why they are so good at making bold promises. Their sole concern is to get the deal and they will promise you anything that will make you more likely to sign it.

People who care for the cause, on the other hand, struggle at the other extreme. Too often, they shy away from making bold promises because they want to be 100% certain to be able to keep them. Which leads them to only ever make the littlest of promises.

But too often that’s a way of hiding. Hiding from the work that would be required to keep a bolder promise.

The sweet spot is to make a bold promise (possibly even one that scares you) and work hard to keep it.

The key difference is this: For the bullshitter, the deal is the end of the story. For people who care, it’s the beginning.

The customer will only know after the deal.

Don’t leave them to the bullshitter. In the customer’s best interest you need to be able to compete with the bullshitter. You know their game. Change it! Not by making smaller promises but by making bigger efforts to keep bold promises.

The most effective way to avoid company speak

… is to imagine a specific person’s face when preparing your communication, someone you know well for quite some time.

Imagine sitting down with them and having to look them in the eyes while telling them that “our innovative process is enabled by a passionate workforce of highly motivated people whose goal is to be the industry leader in their field.”

Feels weird, doesn’t it?

Now imagine how it feels for your audience when you would actually say that.

Better to avoid this feeling by avoiding this weird language.

A better future

Great salespeople show us a better future. They make us see that there’s a gap between what we have got now and what we could have in the future.

They make us want that future.

The difference between selfish and honest salespeople is that the former doesn’t care whether a path exists between the now and the future they paint us.

Which is why their promise can be bolder, their future even brighter.

In fact, if all you care for is the quick deal, the best thing you can do is to paint the brightest future that’s not totally unbelievable.

It’s what bullshitters do all the time.

Things are different, when you care for your customer to actually achieve what you promise. Then you can’t bullshit.

But that means that you need to work extra hard to paint a credible and true picture of a possible future that’s just as attractive as the fake picture of the selfish salespeople.

It means that we need to work extra hard on bold promises that we can confidently keep and then tell true stories about it that resonate deeply with what matters to our audience.

PS: If you struggle, let’s talk: https://michaelgerharz.com/coaching

The Lucy approach

Charlie Brown knew it every time. Yet, next time he bought Lucy’s trick regardless. Every. Single. Time. It’s heartbreaking to see. We wanna shout: “Noooooooo!” We want to shake Charlie.

The Lucy approach is devilish. It’s one promise broken after another. And again. And again. But because Lucy’s joy in pranking Charlie Brown is limitless, her effort is as well. Her eloquence in tricking him once again is off the charts.

The Lucy approach is built on a deep sense for what resonates with Charlie.

It‘s the same art and craft that gets salespeople of the Lucy-style the deal. They substitute Charlie with their customers and they have limitless joy in tricking them into the deal, not really caring for what happens thereafter.

Of course, one of the things that Lucy’s approach doesn’t earn you is trust. In fact, it erodes trust. Drip by drip. Time after time. And that is the reason why your effort will never decrease. Either you’ll need to find new customers over and over again. Or you’ll need to trick the existing ones ever more creatively.

And that’s the irony. While the Lucy approach might be fun – and likely a lot easier to get you quick wins, it’s so much more tedious in the long run.

While communication that’s built on trust gets easier each time you use it, the Lucy approach gets harder each time you try it.

Dealing with bullshit

There’s the truth. There are lies. And there’s bullshit.

To the bullshitter, the appeal of bullshit is that it doesn’t care about true and false. It makes things so much easier. When you don’t care what’s true and what’s not, you’re totally free to build the world just like you want it to be. You just write your own story.

Fake news don’t mean anything to the bullshitter because it’s not about the truth at all. It’s about goals and reaching those goals, no matter what.

So the bullshitter paints a picture that has the biggest possible appeal to his target audience. And he paints it as gloriously as possible. Whether it’s correct or not doesn’t matter as long as it helps to achieve the goal.

That’s also why you can’t argue with a bullshitter about facts. He just doesn’t care. And he doesn’t need to as long as his people are attracted by his painting more than by the facts. It’s all about attraction. It’s fine as long as it attracts.

This isn’t much of a problem as long as enough people care for the truth and will insist on digging deeper. But it will be a huge problem if a majority stops caring for the truth. If they resonate best with what makes them feel better and don’t question, anymore, whether that’s actually good for them. If they stop seeking out differing views and alternative interpretations.

The biggest problem of all is that you can’t fight bullshit with bullshit because it would make you no better. Yet, facts won’t work, either, if the appeal of the bullshit is just so much stronger than that of the truth.

This is why empathy is such an important skill nowadays. We need to become better and better at understanding what matters to people. Not to paint more fake pictures that appeal to them. But to understand how to attach to what matters to them. To discover common ground. And to resonate with what’s important to them in a way that’s true to the facts. To be able to compete with the bullshit while still doing the right thing. So that people feel what’s right and then see what’s right and then do what’s right.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz

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