the dance between listening and speaking

Whew. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but it’s been an intense election season in the U.S.

And if you haven’t noticed … I hope your visit to rural Mongolia has been enjoyable and productive.

Wherever you may happen to live, watching political campaigns is a fascinating — and sometimes nerve-wracking — way to see the art of persuasion in action.

Now that we’re (thankfully) just about wrapped up with the U.S. election, I thought it would be interesting to look at how political persuasion works, how it’s being used, and how it entwines itself through our daily lives.

We’ll start with the most powerful force in political persuasion … and in lots of other persuasive arguments.

Unity is the granddaddy

The phenomenon that Robert Cialdini calls Unity (you could also call it group identity) has always been one of the most important forces in politics. It’s why we have political parties.

“The kind of candidate I vote for” quickly becomes, for many, “who I am.”

Unity comes from beliefs, and beliefs shape nearly everything we perceive. What we pay attention to, the weight we give different arguments, and the lens we use to interpret what we see all come from beliefs.

By the way, that isn’t just true for political campaigns. It’s how the human mind works — and if you imagine that you’re one of the special few who’s immune to bias, you’ll be that much more vulnerable to it.

When I first got online, we thought that connecting human minds across the globe would make it virtually impossible to lie, manipulate, or distort, because the collective would automatically swoop in and correct the distorted information.

I’ll just wait here for a moment while you finish laughing.

Instead, the web created massive, loose tribes of belief (at times you might call them gangs), armed with their own beliefs and — sadly often — their own facts.

Your content may have nothing to do with politics — maybe you write about healthcare, or finance, or parenting.

But all content is informed by beliefs. The more clearly we can see our own worldview, the better able we’ll be to attract like-minded audiences and serve them well.

Stories are more powerful than anything (except Unity)

The most interesting political ads for me are the stories about “people like us” who have particular challenges and difficulties — and who illustrate the candidates’ positions on different issues.

Even when they’re told very simply (remember Joe the Plumber?), they’re powerful.

Stories cut through the clutter of platform, politics, and pontification, and get to the root of why we bother voting at all.

A well-crafted story can move us to laughter, astonishment, tears, or anger (all the Facebook reaction icons!) — sometimes within the span of a minute or two.

Where do we find great stories?

The best way to find great stories is to listen to your “constituents” — the people who read your blog, listen to your podcast, watch your videos, and buy your products or services.

Find out about the struggles they’ve faced, and how they’ve managed them. Those stories hold power, and they create lasting impressions.

The dance between listening and speaking (Get out and vote!)

Good politicians (oxymoron?) listen to uncover what’s not right, so they can speak to it and maybe even improve things.

Good content creators are listeners as well. We make a point of going where our customers are, listening for problems, capturing snippets of language, and trying to understand the deep ideas and values that move our audiences.

But there’s also a time to participate, and not just listen.

So: If you’re a U.S. voter and you haven’t already done it, please vote today!

There aren’t any perfect candidates (in any election, anywhere), but most people reading this have the tremendous good fortune to be able to weigh in on the laws that govern us.

Did you vote? Let us know in the comments! In the interest of keeping some shred of civility, please refrain from mentioning your candidate … or that other one you can’t stand. :)


  1. michael says

    Storytelling and Unity are both tactics (I’d like to know if you disagree as well) yet I just finished a video on Jay Abraham and one of the couple nuggets I got was having a Strategy and Tactics. What is your view on tactics and their place in a marketing company?

  2. Sonia Simone says

    The expression of unity can be tactical, but unity shouldn’t be that shallow. It shouldn’t even be strategic, it should run deeper than that. Otherwise it’s just cynicism — using a political statement or a statement of values to sell a few widgets. It’s always obvious, and customers loathe it.
    We have some fairly chewy content strategy laid out in the ebooks in the member library, which I recommend often. (You can get access to them by going to the Education tab at the top of the page.)
    It would be silly to dismiss tactics, but throwing random tactics at your marketing without knowing why you’re doing it doesn’t tend to be very effective.

  3. Sonia Simone says

    I’ll actually give an example — I just received my third marketing email with the heading “who I voted for.” None of them talk about a specific candidate.
    They’re tactically going for a Unity play to get me to open the email, but then they dance around any actual commitment. Normally that would merit a minor eyeroll, but this time around, with an election that’s even more intensely emotional than usual, I think it’s disrespectful and it backfires. With me, anyway.

  4. Jennifer Stevenson says

    From this perspective, we can also analyse the entire position of professions in the sphere of culture, more specifically in non-profit cultural organizations, largely organized through flexible, poorly paid, utopian and idealist work of women.

  5. Michael Corley says

    That’s interesting to see how Unity is more effective than story.
    So is it safe to assume that Unity informs Story (how it’s told, when it’s told, where it’s told) rather than the opposite being the case?
    Trying to see how that squares with the “Hero’s Journey” as a theme in story telling.

  6. Sonia Simone says

    Unity comes in underneath everything. It’s what you are, based on core beliefs and principles. So for sure, it informs the stories you choose, and the way you tell them.
    Hero’s Journey is a story pattern that can be used to shape just about any kind of story. It’s part of the craft of storytelling.
    Unity informs the kind of stories you tell, and the point of view you tell them from.

  7. SM Nuruzzaman says

    Hi Sonia,
    You’ve just taught me a great lesson on persuasion with your 3 points. The points were written with great persuasion (believe me).
    I know it’s all about the game of a creative mind with creative thinking that can forge content with great persuasion.
    Thanks for sharing the awesome thing with us,

  8. John Eterovich says

    Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t this exactly what Michael just said? Copy-paste…..I suppose that is unity

  9. Sonia Simone says

    Thanks, John, our team didn’t notice that, I removed the cut & pasted comment.

  10. Kevin Smith says

    Maybe this is to simplistic, but unity is like water…strategy like the ocean…and tactics like waves.

  11. Sonia Simone says

    Hm, I think I like it!

  12. Daniel Z. Chohfi says

    It’s great how Unit is easier that worldview (at least for me now) and politics makes the point. Thanks Sonia, awesome post. Ps: I’m doing my superhero pose every day!

  13. Sonia Simone says

    Ha, that’s awesome Daniel! You are a superhero.

  14. Sonia thank you for a great article. I agree that we can all be better listeners. Sometimes we get caught up writing content we think they want. The reality is that we are often wrong.

  15. chris lynam says

    Truth be told, the subheading of “the Dance between listening and speaking” caught me hook, line, and sinker. Then again, this is a great nod to the storytelling aspect of the article itself. I mean, had it been, “Why Everyone Should Vote” – I would have kept scrolling. Sonia, you crafted an article with a political tie in, centered around a nugget that I am absolutely passionate about (storytelling/dancing), and that a very non-political person read from start to finish. Thank you.

  16. Sonia Simone says

    Neat, Chris, thanks for the comment!

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