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How to Go Negative and Stay Positive

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 29/10/2015 Alan Kelly

A decade ago I went against the current of the American dream and headed east. I have yet to be disappointed because what Washington, D.C. offers over Silicon Valley is a constant carnival and living laboratory of influence strategy. A perfect petri dish in which to grow and test my general theory of influence and the Playmaker System.
Presidential politics has become my favorite arena because the regulatory barriers and inhibitions that grip most corporations are so much lower in the campaign game. Politicos can (and do) say almost anything in their sport of spin so there's simply more to see and learn from from their ploys and pivots.
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Consider, as an example, the master strategy of going negative:
In much of corporate American, the idea of attacking a rival is anathema to most CEOs and CCOs. Thanks to scholars of symmetric communication and reputation specialists companies are slavishly obedient to every mother's lesson: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
As a consequence, businesses have little taste or competency for competing through communication. They hold to take-the-high-road policies that have incrementally drained their skill base of the realtime knife fights that win markets and minds. Being competitive is misread as getting aggressive which is misread as trashing a competitor. So they hold to the grinning dogma: Be nice or be nothing.
"Competitive communication is not a binary sport," I remind clients, pointing to The Standard Table of Influence and its 24 strategies of influence. "There are many ways to position, re-position or de-position without breaking policies or compromising ethics. There are 24, not 2."
To animate my point, I've lately turned to the candidacy of the independent Vermont senator, Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, who has yet to earn my support, if ever, is vying for the Democratic nomination for the 2016 presidency but not solely through talking points of his policies and back story. He is, after all, facing a master of political strategy in the form of Hillary Clinton. And with his numbers now sliding he can hardly expect that her numbers will go down on their own.
Sanders, however, is determined never go negative. To do so would be to contradict his brand of trust and authenticity. So how does Bernie go negative and stay positive? By running plays that prove a point, not cross a line of propriety. Here are a few examples as reported by The Washington Post:
FIAT This is the strategy of the straight-faced playmaker, the play that relies on the power of proclamation. Sanders used the Fiat a day after Clinton's Benghazi testimony by promoting a list of his long-held positions -- on gay rights, trade and financial regulations among others. While Clinton basked in her Capitol Hill performance, Bernie's just-the-facts ma'am release was a reminder that Hillary still has much to explain.
PING In addition to direct statements, there's always the power of suggestion. Sanders did just that by obliquely questioning opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline. It's a no-brainer, he quipped, knowing full well that for Hillary it has not been. His influence strategy was of the subtlest sort, a Ping.
MIRROR This is the play that substitutes evidence for invective. The nice guy's Call Out. It's a freezing play that forces facts into a discussion space without forcing an emotional response or counter-claim of bad sportsmanship. "We have differences of opinion," Sanders dead-panned to CNN. "And I think American people...need to know the differences." He didn't call Hillary stupid, Donald Trump-style. He didn't say her positions are improper. He just said there are differences, falling far short of the mockery that would make his play patently negative.
Some will say this is rationalizing, that Sanders, however he does it, is intent on tarring Clinton. But that he won't or hasn't yet run plays such as the Red Herring, Bait, Jam or Call Out -- all designed to deceive or de-position -- is some proof that competitive communication can be had through through more constructive strategies.
Corporations, currently neutered by happy-talk policies and love-me-babe consultants, would be wise to study their options. Competing through communication is not a choice between doing nothing (a Pass) and criticizing an opponent (a Call Out). Without knowing them all, they're bound to get rolled by savvier players who know all 24.
Post by Alan Kelly
Graphic courtesy of Playmaker Systems, LLC

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