Doesn’t Hurt to Ask by Trey Gowdy – Here are my six lessons and takeaways

I presented this book at the October, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis

I presented this book at the October, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis

Do you know what it is you are trying to persuade someone of? Have you studied it thoroughly, examined every aspect of it, and cross-examined it in your own mind?  
In 1650 Oliver Cromwell, imploring the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to step away from their pledge of allegiance to the royalist cause, said: “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.” In other words, Consider the remote possibility you may be wrong.
The question is: Are you open to something you have not already thought of? …Don’t we have to be willing to do what we are asking others to do, which is to be persuadable?
Trey Gowdy:  Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

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Persuasion is a challenge; a real challenge.  It is not easy to persuade. Anyone. Including yourself. Think about it; how easy would it be to change your mind about something that matters to you?

Trey Gowdy is a former Prosecutor, and former member of Congress.  And, he is honest about the difficult task of trying to persuade people in Congress.

And he has written a book that I found useful, and enjoyable to read.  (Mr. Gowdy is one of those “Southern funny” guys.  I’ve got a brother like that).  His book is: Doesn’t Hurt to Ask: Using the Power of Questions to Communicate, Connect, and PersuadeIt shot straight up on the New York Times list of best-selling business books (#2 in October). 

And, whether you are a Republican (his Party), or a Democrat – or a salesperson, or a leader in your community, or on a work team — you will find this book a true thought exercise, and something of a tutorial, on persuasion.

I presented my synopsis of this book at the October 2, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis.

In my synopses, I provide comprehensive, multi-page synopses handouts.  Here are some of the key excerpts of my handout for this book.

What is the point? — People hold incomplete, or incorrect, or harmful, or dangerous, ideas and viewpoints. …Learning how to persuade is how we help people move forward in their own lives; and in our own. Learning to ask questions is a key element in our efforts to persuade.

Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons:

#1 – This book is filled with stories from some very specific arenas of persuasion; the courts, the congress; and life itself.
#2 – This book lays out the steps in the process of persuasion.  It is a thorough tutorial.
#3 – This book reminds us that we need to engage in self-persuasion before we seek to persuade others.

Here are a few of the Quotes and Excerpts from the book that I included in my handout – the “best of”Randy’s highlighted Passages:

• The most effective persuaders listen as much as they talk. The most effective persuaders ask as many questions as they answer. Asking questions, in the right way and at the right time, may well prove to be the most effective tool you have.
• I left the courtroom because the questions were better than the answers. I left Congress because the questions never matter in politics. Almost everyone in Washington, DC, already has his or her mind made up. …I do not recall a single person’s mind ever being changed during a committee or floor debate during the eight years I was in Congress.
• While I may be a cynic, much of persuasion is about idealism. It’s about open-minded people who can have meaningful dialogue about what it is they truly care about. 
• And that should be our objective in persuasion: striving to communicate and to move those with whom we are interacting. To move someone from a yes to a no. To move someone to a maybe. To move someone to see our side. To move someone to get a new angle and new perspective. To move them to feel what you feel, to see what you see, to think what you think. Move them to do what’s worthy, what’s good, and what’s right. Move them to hire you, to give you a chance, to give you more responsibility. Move someone to take a chance on your idea. Move someone to invest as much in what you are trying to do as you have invested.
• The minute you make a false declarative, you lose credibility with the person with whom you are talking or whoever might be listening. 
• There are so few things I fully understand. 
• The person you end up persuading may wind up being yourself, and sometimes that is the toughest jury of all. 
• Debating is science. Persuasion is art.
• First I ask myself, What do I know? Then, How do I know it? Last, What are the limits of my knowledge? 
• Learn how people think. Learn what motivates them. Learn what moves them. Learn what inspires them. Learn what scares them. Learn where they are. How they got there. And what it would take for them to move to something or somewhere else.  What do people want? What do they crave? Where do they derive meaning and worth? Juries are a collection of jurors.
• There is a reason I begin many sentences with “Are you open to…?” No one considers herself or himself to be closed. So of course they want to be “open.”  The burden of persuasion to get me to “consider” something or be “open” to something is much lower than getting me to accept or participate in something. That is true with most of us.
• What happens when we are insulted is that we become simultaneously defensive and aggressive.
In every congressional hearing I participated in, there was something I really hoped did not come up. • I believe in having a plan and I doubly believe in having a plan for the worst-case scenario. What is your plan?
• Silence is the greatest attention grabber in the world.
• When you are talking to a large group, remember that they are not listening as a large group. …But fundamentally people hear on an individual level.

Here are some of the key points from the book:

  • We are all in the persuasion business:
  • the need to competently process and communicate information toward a desired outcome is every bit as essential on your job site as it was on mine.
  • What is persuasion?
  • Persuasion is not about winning arguments—it’s about effectively and efficiently advocating for what it is you believe to be true.
  • Persuasion is about understanding what people believe and why they believe it and using that to either debunk or confirm their position. Persuasion is subtle, incremental, and deliberate. It has the potential to be life changing.
  • Getting someone to do something they were not planning on doing. Convincing someone to buy into something they never knew they were looking for. That is persuasion.
  • Persuasion – the “old way” – (declarative statements)
  • When it comes to the art of persuasion, we have typically been led to think of the following format: opening statement, make a point, state an argument. Then there’s a long stream of declarations, statements, affirmations, presentations, proclamations, pronunciations to slowly build an argument with as few holes as possible and as many powerful assertions as one can fit in a breath. That’s the traditional model. But what if there is a better way?
  • Persuasion – the “new way” – (asking questions)
  • Questions can gather the time, the information, and the interpersonal connectivity to persuade in ways that simply proclaiming what you believe cannot accomplish.
  • Gowdy’s main point:
  • since all persuasion is self-persuasion, then…
  • ask questions – a lot of questions – to help a “jury” arrive at the conclusion the persuader believes is correct. Therefore…
  • therefore, all questions were so that they could arrive at the truth of their own accord. … Most people can attempt to persuade by saying what they believe and why, but can you persuade by asking the right questions, at the right time, in the right order? More important, can you, in essence, have the person with whom you are talking convince themselves?
  • The Persuader and his/her Jury
  • every persuader has to identify, and then seek to persuade, the jury he/she faces
  • the jury has to be open-minded before there can be any hope of persuasion
  • “jurors” need to be people of humility; and open-mindedness THE MOST PERSUASIVE ARE THE PERSUADABLE
  • I’d spent most of my life growing up around similar kinds of people, but if you do not understand all people—people of varying backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, religious beliefs, experiences, and thought processes—you will never be an effective communicator.
  • Persuasion is incremental; step-by-step…
  • If you can remember one thing, remember that the art of persuasion is not about winning people over. It’s about bringing people closer together.
  • Think of persuasion as change. Think of persuasion as movement. Think of persuasion as incremental.
  • The steps of persuasion:
  • identify your objective, your purpose, your end goal.
  • know (or gather) all the relevant facts that undergird your position
  • spend some time considering the other side of the issue or request.
  • have a clear sense of whom, or which group, you are trying to move, persuade, or convince.
  • Now the calibration. (Burden of proof) — How much persuasion is enough to move the person on the point you are trying to make? Call it burden of proof.
  • Some practical disciplines:
  • Practice!!! — Every closing argument ever given in a courtroom was given pushing a lawnmower weeks before. I play it out in my head before it ever happens in real life.
  • Put your argument in the best possible order — One thing almost everyone will tell you is not to bury your best facts or arguments in the middle. …I would tell you to start with your very best fact first.
  • Develop greater empathy. — empathy is powerful. Empathy connects us. …So, sit down. Listen to real people. Know how they think. Know what they think. Know why they think it. And then—if at all possible—feel what they feel.
  • Cultivate sincerity — If you don’t believe what you are saying, no one else will.
  • Real emotion moves. Contrived emotion repels.
  • Be engaged — If you cannot be sincere—if you cannot be authentic—you can, at the very least, be engaged. You make eye contact. Your body language is welcoming, not repelling. You listen.
  • Be likable — Part of being likable is understanding human nature and those characteristics most of us share.
  • Never lie — The number one credibility killer when it comes to communicating your perspective to others is lying. Lying is not simply making a false statement. …The worst is to make an intentionally false statement that is material to a point in question, with the intent to deceive. People can, will, and do forgive almost anything in life. But they are loath to forgive an effort to intentionally mislead them on an important and material point.
  • Learn to use repetition effectively — But redundancy and repetition not only firmly imprint the information in the mind of the listener, they are also code for “This is important so I am going to say it over and over and over again.”

And here are my six lessons and takeaways:

#1 – You could be wrong about some things – even some very important things. (And, so could I).
#2 – You will not change for the better if you are not open-minded.
#3 – You will not change for the better if you are not listening to people who can help you make such moves toward change.
#4 – You will not help others change for the better if you do not help them arrive at their own reasons to shift, and move, and change.
#5 – Questions really matter.  Ask questions.  Many questions. Start with questioning yourself.
#6 – And, in all matters, tell the truth; never lie. This is foundational.

This is a fun book to read.  And it will remind you of the power of asking good questions, from the perspective both of trying to persuade others, and of genuinely wanting to learn.  And, the power of listening.  I encourage you to check out the insights in this useful book.

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And I included this footnote in my handout: revisiting Aristotle, and the ancients —

  • logos – the logical appeal (get the facts right)
  • ethos – the ethical appeal (the credibility of the persuader)
  • pathos – the emotional appeal (the emotion/passion of the persuader; the emotion used to appeal to the audience)
  • {mythos – the narrative appeal}

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You can watch a video of my synopsis presentation, recorded from our event, on YoutubeClick here to access that video.

And, you can purchase my synopsis, with the audio recording of my presentation, and my comprehensive, mutli-page synopsis handout, on this website.  We have many, many synopses to choose from.  Click on “buy synopses” to search through book titles.  Or, click here for our newest additions.  (This synopsis will be uploaded soon).

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