listening, analytical listening, personal bias, propaganda

How to Listen Analytically to Persuasive Appeals—And NOT Be Tricked!

Often these days, while listening to pundits and politicians, I feel the urge to flash a warning label across the TV screen:

—Opinion, Not Fact
—Dodging the Question
—Sweeping Generalization
—Emotional Appeal
—Hidden Agenda

Unfortunately, my remote control doesn’t have that option. So blogging about the importance of listening analytically is my next best thing.

When someone dumps her feelings about a broken love affair, you’ll want to listen reflectively to empathize. On the other hand, in other conversations, as a business leader or informed citizen, you want to listen analytically for a variety of reasons:

  • To sort fact from opinion
  • To discern hidden agendas
  • To develop creative alternatives to problems
  • To evaluate offered alternatives and decide which best solves the problem at hand

When a situation calls for analysis, focus on these fundamentals.


Overcome Personal Bias to Evaluate and Sift Out Propaganda Techniques

Although difficult, recognizing the need for objectivity on occasion improves our reception of messages. Beware of stereotypical thinking and negative thinking; otherwise, your reactions and the resulting situation become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Then filter out these propaganda tactics:


The Bandwagon

The bandwagon approach invites you to accept an idea or take an action just because everybody else is doing so: “This has been our most popular model.” Or, “Here, listen to what Joe Smoe says about this plan.” Or, “What the majority of Americans want is blah, blah, blah.” Or, “Most all employees agree they want to work for a company that provides X.” Usually, the persuader wants to “educate you” so that you can see the light and understand those complex things that he and the majority have already mastered.



The all-or-nothing persuader insists that you must either accept everything about an idea or reject it in total. Either you take the plan in its entirety, or forget it. Either you buy the product and all the related services, or it won’t work at all.



Generalizations lead you to come to a conclusion based on a single or few incidents or facts. “John Smith is an engineer who can’t write well; therefore, no engineers write well.”


Like One, Like ‘Em All

The like-one-like-’em-all pitch links the new to the old, with the intent of giving your one idea a free ride. “You loved hearing Roland speak last year? Then you’re really going to like Fred,” or “You remember how well this process worked last year? Then we can set it up the same way this year.”


Word Tarnishing

This next propaganda technique is more subtle: I call ’em like I see ’em. The persuader hopes to color your thinking simply by his word choice: He speaks of “this outdated system,” and before long you find yourself thinking that the system is outdated. Or he talks of “this leading-edge technology,’ and soon you find yourself thinking of his company’s technology as the wave of the future—all because the persuader labeled things that way. This “barbaric approach to medical care,” if referred to a practice in that way often enough, will soon lead an army of followers to think of a legitimate treatment as “barbaric.”



The card-stacking persuader tells you only the facts that she wants you to hear, selectively omitting others that would give you both sides of the picture. And every argument seems right until you hear the other side.



Finally, the evangelistic persuader uses hot, emotion-evoking, descriptive words to stir people to action. “Are you going to let those tycoons sitting in their Manhattan high-rise with their $3,000 pin-striped suits kick you while you’re down?”


Listen carefully and think critically to avoid being taken in by any of these indirect tactics and non-arguments. Make sure you’re not being persuaded by the communication style, word choice, or emotional tone rather than by the credible ideas themselves.


Learn more ways to improve your communication through careful listening with Communicate with Confidence: How to Say it Right the First Time and Every Time. Find it at your preferred book seller.

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