Turning criticism into an asset by pivoting
By Ray Hanania
When you are in a campaign, you can address issues in several ways. One is to address issues defined by your opponent. But the more effective way is to address issues defined by you. You embrace the criticism, respond to the criticism, and then pivot to a point that turns the issue around on your opponent.
That’s how you win.
When your opponent attacks you, you don’t walk into the firing line and take the beating. You deny the accusation and then take control of the discussion by redefining the discussion.
For example, in a recent election contest between a 24 year long mayoral incumbent and his challenger, the challenger accused the incumbent of creating large debts by subsidizing a village-run development by borrowing money from other village funds (TIF funds, etc).
The challenger also asserted that the village’s Bond Ratings were low and could fall more.
Now, the incumbent could respond by denying the two claims and providing facts to substantiate his denials.
But the better way is to respond with your facts and then take control of the discussion. How do you do that? By inserting an issue that turns the discussion around.
The incumbent might argue, that the public claims of the challenger not only are false (and provide the facts), but worse (and this is the pivot) his false assertions are undermining the very financial status of the village that he claims to be concerned about.
In other words, the challenger’s false accusations about the village’s finances are actually creating problems for the village. The challenger is irresponsible, and therefore not a good choice for mayor (actually for “village president” but that title does not resonate with the majority of voters).
The public really doesn’t want to engage in a heavy, fact-burdened argument or debate. They want the facts, but only just enough of them.
Whenever you address an issue, you address the public, not the challenger. In doing so, you must ensure you don’t bore the public to death.
Sure, the activists involved in the campaign what all the boring, lengthy little facts. But the public only wants a response that is:
1 – reasonable
2 – common sense
3 – easy to understand
That’s what makes a statement believable. It has to make sense. Common sense. Reasonable. And easy to understand.
The more detailed you get, the harder it is for the public to get their mind around the issue to understand what you are trying to say. Instead, they will gravitate towards their perception of the issue. Perception is a superficial familiarity with something. It’s simple. Easy to comprehend. And doesn’t always have to be right.
So you need to respond in the clearest, simplest and most common sense reasonable way so that the target audience quickly understands what you are saying. They must be able to say to themselves, “That makes sense.”
The shortest response is always the best response. But you can tell the audience, you are happy to provide far more information, facts and details if they would like.
Grab the issue, control the issue and reformat the issue into a positive, and reserve it to the target audience.