Negative Rhetoric as a “Tell”

4th Dec, 2011

In poker, a “tell” is a small change in a player’s behaviour used by opponents to get an indication of the strength of their hand.

Similar tells come up in interactions all the time. If you look out for them, you can often detect someone’s intrinsic bias (we all have them). Its worth the effort because once you understand someones personal viewpoint, you have more effective conversations.

Next time you’re in a discussion and it feels blocked or going round in circles, try this: Listen to the juxtaposition of phrases on key issues and see which side of the issue is given the pejorative or negative wording. Here’s an example: When taking a stance on Google Android phones vs Apple iPhones, a common refrain from the Google camp is:

Android is open, iPhone is closed.

Steve Jobs in contrast preferred:

iPhone is integrated, Android is fragmented.

Both statements deliver the same intent, however, the negative inference clearly indicates the the speakers personal belief. A good way to check someone’s bias is to reverse or mixup the rhetoric and play it back to them. The response to the rewording will indicate willingness to accept new ideas and come to a shared understanding. Or, are they only interested in verbal point scoring.

You can also use the same concepts to balance you own messages and take the edge out of an argument. Instead of using good/bad wording for an issue, use good/good or bad/bad.

Android is open, iPhone is integrated.
iPhone is closed, Android is fragmented.

Be authentic in your conversations.