Mankind has demonstrated a clear propensity for creating echo chambers and doing very bad things when money and ego are at play. In my past I have dealt with defense contractor wrongdoing after 9/11 and am now trying to tackle the Autonomous Vehicle industry and their untenable and needlessly dangerous approach to building their systems. Recently I stumbled on a thread on LinkedIn where not vaccinating children was being discussed. I asked for the information I would need to change my mind and met with several approaches I did not feel were helping. That led me to write this article.
Before I begin, I was to refer you to bits of my biography below. And mention that I surely do not have all the answers and have made mistakes in both of my pursuits. I also have the significant advantage, in both cases, of facing an opposition who has or had very few professional, technical, ethical or morale standing. Meaning they had or have very few objective facts on their side. Said differently — they were and are pretty much objectively wrong about everything.
In order to hopefully make this easier to understand I will use a list format.
· You must be on professional, technical, ethical and morale high ground at all times. Far more so than the opposition or the folks you are trying to sway.
· The fact is the odds are not in your favor. You must give 110% at all times and it may never end. We all have bad days and get frustrated. But if you cannot hang in there on most days don’t even start. (Odds are these efforts will cause problems in your professional and personal life. You must accept that.)
· You simply cannot give the other side anything legitimate. This means acknowledging weakness in your own argument and strengths in theirs before the opposition does it for you. The former looks proactively ethical, the latter like you are circling the wagons.
· You cannot exaggerate, mislead, dodge, err, get out of control or misrepresent the other side. If the facts or even reliable perception is not on your side admit it and either let it be or counter it properly. There is far more strength is gaining credibility by acknowledging weakness or valid points from the other side than to try to appear right on everything and fail.
· Where possible find legitimate common ground and work your POV from there. Issues of safety for example. However, be very careful. This can backfire even if you do it well. (I would suggest stating right up front that you are going to use this approach and want to avoid any negative unintended consequences.)
· Do your homework. Seek out the opposition to validate your approach and information. Often the signs you are on the right path will not be agreement. When most folks realize their points are wrong or not as strong as they want them to be, they will lash out, shoot the messenger, change subjects, obfuscate, misrepresent you etc. (I this point I must admit to trolling. If this person or organization is integral to success you must counter them as often as possible. And by that, I mean you have to find the very hard to find sweet spot between over trolling and turning people off and either reminding people of your points or being heard by someone new.)
· Do not characterize the opposition as incompetent, unethical or immoral unless your argument is virtually impenetrable, and the issue are of paramount importance. Like matters of life and death.
· Ask questions when you can vs making statements. And example would be my last comment. Maybe say — “Is this position professionally, technically, ethically and morally sound?” (Have to admit I violated this rule recently. A misstep I regret.)
· You may need to call out other groups who are trying to make the same case as you if they violate that higher ground.
· Resourcefulness and tenacity are the keys to success. As is not backing down or waffling. Try every avenue you can to be heard. Including those who may oppose you.
· Precision and directness will usually be considered terse and be off-putting. However, the opposite will lead to misunderstanding, be interpreted as weakness or lack of conviction and let folks off the hook.
· Having said that you need to be good with a partial victory if that is the best than can be done. It is far better to get fewer people engaged than lose them all by overreaching. These are all very fine lines.
· I suggest a PowerPoint
· Not too much clutter, words on a slide or use of terms folks have to look up.
· Do not make it look too flashy or produced. That can have an off-putting tabloid feel.
· This has to be concise, very easy to understand and meet the higher ground standard.
· I would suggest admitting right off the bat that your side is not the “conventional wisdom” and that you know and accept the burden and challenge of countering the masses. Make it clear you know this means you need to be right on all counts, acknowledge when the opposition makes a good point. When you have a weakness and that you will provide very easy to find supporting data. This approach often takes people off guard in a good way. It demonstrates you are aware of their feeling uncomfortable and doubting your motives, competence, sanity, ethics and morality. That often leads to their relaxing and listening to you. At least as much as they are willing to. (I have actually started off by stating this is my intent up front.)
· Reliable information is the key. Where possible it should come from the opposing side or at least a neutral party.
· Where possible appeal to peoples commence sense. But be careful. If people start to feel mislead they will feel like your tricked them. From their they will likely feel insulted, used and angry. The trust will be gone. And you will never get them back.
· Seek out tips on debating. (I would like to caution that many of the tips I have seen involve style. While many are helpful, I would suggest avoiding coming off as rehearsed. I think it is better to manage your flaws than to not be yourself.)
· Provide not just citings for your references but where the words you use can be found by paragraph. Folks has wading through documents.
· Do not include anecdotal information. I would also suggest you avoid using your family or individuals as examples. It is far too easy for this to look like you are exploiting them as human Guinea pigs. It also makes it look like there is no real data on your side. Leaving you to resort to tabloid pranks. How many professional articles or studies have you seen that take this approach? If you do use real people as examples do so after establishing the fact set and acknowledge you are aware this approach can be off putting. Provide an explanation for why you are providing these examples. Maybe to put a human face on the issues or to show concrete examples of the impacts.
Support from Others
· You will find you hear crickets most of the time. This will likely include friends, family and co-workers. As a stated above that can cause significant problems.
· The folks on the team must follow the same process. One outlier could sink the whole effort. (As I state above you may have to call out and separate yourself from others on your side who cede higher ground.)
· I suggest having one person be the public face. Hopefully that is the person with the best credentials.
Former system engineer, engineering and program manager for Lockheed Martin. Including the software engineering manager for all of NORAD and a project manager for the Aegis Weapon System. I was also a communications engineer for the US State Department, including their counter terrorism group. As well as a communications technician for the US Navy.
Post 9/11 DoD/DHS Whistleblower — Deepwater Program
· I was presented the IEEE Barus Ethics Award
· Lead witness at a congressional hearing April 2007
· First person to use YouTube as a whistleblower
· Featured in the documentary “War on Whistleblowers”
· On 60 Minutes and several national broadcasts
· My efforts we included in the book “Rescue Warriors”
· I am included in several books on ethics