Pandering to your audience vs. persauding for it
July 27, 2002
A few weeks ago I wrote a column for Boxes and Arrows about the pressures and temptations to provide simple answers to complex issues are ones we all face in our professional practices.

Now Infoworld columnist Bob Lewis, who's thinking I've long admired, provides some sage advice on the same subject:


Given a choice between a complex, difficult-to-understand, disconcerting explanation and a simplistic, comforting one, many prefer simplistic comfort if it's remotely plausible, especially if it involves blaming someone else for their problems.

Making good decisions requires that you recognize and eschew simplistic, comforting explanations. Even the best decision-makers constantly guard against this very natural tendency. That's one obvious lesson to learn. The other?

Persuasion is difficult, especially when you have to present a hard, painful choice. The easiest way is to pander to your audience with a simplistic, comforting explanation that blames someone else ("clueless managers who just don't get it" would be a common example among IT professionals). Don't write this off too quickly: It has the advantage of working nearly every time.

It is, however, manipulative and dishonest. That doesn't mean the right approach is to present your logic in cool, painstaking detail.

To persuade, keep your arguments simple if not simplistic and phrase them in terms relevant to your audience if you can't make them comforting.

There is, after all, a difference between pandering to your audience and caring about it.

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