Have you ever had someone try to sell you something when it’s clear they don’t know much about their own product? Do you find that irritating? And yet people often feel free to contact their elected officials to try to sell them on an idea (whether it’s something they love or hate) when they really don’t have all the facts.
For example, polls show that Americans believe foreign aid programs make up about 21 percent of the federal budget. When asked what they thought an appropriate amount to spend on foreign aid programs would be, they said 10 percent. In fact, foreign aid programs comprise less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Yet many people argue vociferously that funding for foreign aid programs should be reduced to provide financing for their pet project.
Granted, no one expects the general citizenry to understand all the details of the complicated federal budget process. That said, if you’re going to be outraged about something, make sure you know what you’re outraged about. The same is true for wild enthusiasm. It’s not enough to say, “Gee, this is great.” You’ve got to know why it’s great—and why others would think it’s great as well.
In other areas of the Influence Game, this translates into knowing enough about your issue to articulate an accurate position before you start your persuasion effort. It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to influence legislators, business people or your spouse. While it’s always appropriate to say “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’ll get back to you,” do make every effort to ensure that the premise of your argument is sound. You do this by relying on credible sources for information (i.e., not just the Internet and talk radio), doing a little research and being able to connect your personal concerns to the overall message.
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