The power of language: A statement or a question?

The power of language: A statement or a question?

When designing a communication strategy, you might like to carefully consider which will be more effective, using a statement to impart your views to others, or a question to draw others towards you. In this issue of Negotiation Insights we look at a notable example of each from history and provide a few tips to help make your communication strategies more effective.

Influencing with a statement
On 28th August 1963 the American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr sought to influence the American people using a simple but powerful statement. Standing at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in front of over 250,000 civil rights supporters he gave a strong speech based around the repeated statement: “I have a dream”.

This speech went on to become one the most famous of the 20th century. There were many reasons that the statement “I have a dream” resonated with the American public, including delivery by a charismatic and respected leader, and the public’s mood for change. However, it was arguably the ability of the narrative “I have a dream”, that best captured the common ground the American people held toward humanity’s need to provide equal civil rights to all citizens. Many political observers believe that this speech and statement enabled the conversations and the foundation for the civil rights gap between white and African-Americans to be bridged.

Influencing with a question
In the lead-up to the 4th November 1980 US Presidential election, Governor Ronald Reagan, the Republican challenger, and the incumbent President, Democrat Jimmy Carter, held a nationally televised debate, on 28th October. In his closing remarks Reagan challenged the American people to consider, “Ask yourself: Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”.

Confronted with an underperforming economy and the Iranian hostage crisis in the Middle East, Reagan’s question invited Americans to reflect on the losses they had incurred over the then current Presidential term. By doing so he strongly implied to voters that he could offer a positive choice which would result in, among other things, a political agenda for economic security, and restoration of the nation’s reputation for global leadership and military dominance. Many political observers believe that this speech, and specifically the one final question, was the turning point in the campaign that resulted in Ronald Reagan winning the election.

Quick tips – Building a communication strategy

  • Statements and questions can create a positive response when they reflect the common ground that you hold with the other party.
  • Statements and questions risk a negative response when they deny merit of the other party’s view and reflect self-interest that limits their sense of autonomy.
  • Statements and questions that favourably contrast the future to the past increase perspective-taking and motivate participation.
  • When choosing to use a statement or a question, remember the effectiveness is measured by how well it moves you and the other party toward your outcomes.

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Changing Perceptions: Shane Warne recalls advice

Collaborating to create value: Power to the people

Creating points of influence: Russell Crowe gets his leading lady

Creating strong alternatives: Flying fresh milk to China

Cultural mindsets: SONY Walkman designed for harmony

Defining Fairness: US German trade negotiations

Difficult conversations: Thalidomide sufferers seek empathy

Elon Musk: When to Negotiate

Engaging the enemy: US and Taliban peace talks

Finding common ground: US Firearm reforms

Gun tragedies: We hear you

Hostage negotiations: A frontline perspective

Identity needs: Tobacco now a nobody

Influencing timelines: The brave new world of regulators

In Focus: Managing Power Imbalances

In Focus: Measuring negotiation costs

In Focus: Negotiating Teams & Coalitions

In Focus: Negotiating with agents

In Focus: The authentic negotiator

Leadership without authority: Reducing domestic violence

Managing COVID-19 Renegotiations

Managing uncertainty: New freeway gets a red light

Mindsets: It’s a choice!

Negotiation preparation: Prime Minster wins election

Negotiation styles: Managing aggressive behaviours

Price haggling: Strategies to position value

Problem Solving: Calm in the cockpit

Problem Solving: Delivering outcomes

Restoring relationships: Saying sorry

Setting the scene: Automotive executives fly into a storm

Shaping mindsets: AVIS We try harder

Taylor Swift: Giving others a voice

The power of language: A statement or a question?

Timing concessions: Bangladesh factory tragedy

Traits of skilled negotiators: Nelson Mandela

Verifying trust: World soccer cup and gulf of Mexico oil spill


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