Influence With Action,
Not Argument

I know someone who attempts to engage his friends in political arguments. He bemoans the fact that his political worldview is different from that of his friends.

This same friend has a very comfortable lifestyle. He owns a nice home, nice automobiles, and has a fine career. His material lifestyle is not unlike that of his friends.

One afternoon, after watching this group of friends for a few hours, I got a chance to ask the majority of the group about their apparent discord with their singular friend. "It's how hypocritical he is," said one of the group. "He gets on his moral high horse about the inequality of income tax, and then complains about the tax burden that he and his wife have."

Those who argue, lose; those who act, win.

We have all heard the line, “Actions speak louder than words.” Getting others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word, is a mark of high influence. Results matter, because the demonstration of results is not argument, it is fact. When you are able to show what could be, through the example of actions that produce the desired results, you have influence.

take action mouse.jpgWords are the weapons of one who argues. We all know an arguer, someone who's constantly attempting to convince us to do something their way, to think their way, or to act their way. Arguers are often discarded along the roadside of history, ignored by their friends or vanquished by their enemies. Even when the arguer is dead-nuts correct, they lose the battle of influence.

Words are never neutral. When you argue with someone, you have no awareness of how the other person is thinking. In an argument, both sides believe that they are right. If you have children, watch them the next time they pester you with an argument. Notice how they will fight hard to defend their position, even when they know that they are wrong. When arguing with one another, kids will take the frontal attack, including name-calling and the eventual call to the parental authority unit. If you don’t have children, just study any political story, and you will see examples of grown adults arguing in this manner, including the name-calling.

When arguers realize that they are not convincing the other party, they double their efforts and argue more, digging into the task, blinded to the damage they could be doing to their position. Clever arguers will look for ways to shake the security of the opposition, making claims that the opposing argument is invalid. As they get more desperate, they get more personal, arguing that supporting the opposing position is stupid, ignorant, or callous. This is ironic, because these desperate arguments prove to be equally stupid—and what could be more callous than deliberately attempting to make the other party feel insecure about their beliefs?

I once watched a group of managers attempt to illustrate the logical faults in a solution that their boss had developed for a group problem. The managers talked logically about what they saw as the root cause of the problem, and none of them understood how the boss’s solution would fix the issue. The more the managers resisted, the more the boss fought them. They did not have actual examples to use, so they could not demonstrate clearly why the solution would not work. The discussion grew more intense until the managers illustrated the issue on a white board. By this point, the boss had had enough resistance, and sarcastically said, “Only geniuses and professors have to use a white board to make their point.” Suddenly the room became quiet, and the boss decreed his solution to be the final decision.

The jarring impact of interruption—and a visceral example.

Nikita Khrushchev, one of the most powerful men on the world political stage of the twentieth century, knew that he could not win many arguments outside the Soviet Union. That still did not stop him from heckling the speeches of others. As the Soviet premier, Khrushchev was an adept debater, in a land where debate was not always permitted. Khrushchev’s cleverness belied his simple peasant-metalworker backstory; he knew when to interrupt, and he knew how to trick his political competitors into making verbal missteps in front of Joseph Stalin.

Khrushchev did not have an easy time under Stalin. In order to consolidate his power, Stalin ordered The Great Purge in 1937. Khrushchev and other lower-level party leaders signed thousands of arrest orders for friends and fellow party members, many of whom were innocent. The central committee set high quotas for arrests, and for percentages of arrests that would lead to execution. Stalin started with a political purge of past and future opponents, with a focus on the more traditional communists who thought he held too much individual power. Eventually the NKVD spread the terror to other groups of potential enemies.

Stalin sent Khrushchev to govern the Ukraine in 1939. Khrushchev was removed after the Ukraine fell to the Germans in WWII, but he returned to rebuild in 1946. Khrushchev worked to rebuild the Ukraine until recalled to Moscow by Stalin in 1949. There, Khrushchev got to see first-hand the dictator’s failing mental and physical health, as he brought all of the subordinate leaders to Moscow to keep an eye on them, to make sure that they did not plot behind his back.

Khrushchev ended up succeeding Stalin in 1953,  after a series of power plays by the inner circle after Stalin's death took out the other contenders.  Once in the leadership role, Khrushchev started to press for more reform, releasing political prisoners and rolling back most of the oppressive rules.  In the Twentieth Party Congress on February 14, 1956, Khrushchev took on the historical image of the former leader, Stalin. In his opening remarks, in instead of honoring Stalin, Khrushchev asked the members of the congress to rise in memory of all the former party leaders who had died since the last congress, listing many killed in Stalin’s purges. Later in the same congress, Khrushchev gave what is called the Secret Speech, denouncing Stalin, and illustrating the ways that Stalin had used his power to secure even more power.

“Stalin called everyone who didn't agree with him an ‘enemy of the people.’ He said that they wanted to restore the old order, and for this purpose, ‘the enemies of the people’ had linked up with the forces of reaction internationally. As a result, several hundred thousand honest people perished. Everyone lived in fear in those days. Everyone expected that at any moment there would be a knock on the door in the middle of the night, and that knock on the door would prove fatal… People not to Stalin's liking were annihilated, honest party members, irreproachable people, loyal and hard workers for our cause who had gone through the school of revolutionary struggle under Lenin's leadership. This was utter and complete arbitrariness. And now is all this to be forgiven and forgotten? Never!”

Strong words of denouncement.

There is a story that while Khrushchev denounced many of Stalin’s atrocities in this public meeting, a heckler in the audience interrupted him, saying, "You were one of Stalin's colleagues. Why didn't you stop him?"

khrushev.n.jpgKhrushchev shouted, "Who said that?" and looked around the room.
No one moved. No one admitted they had asked the question. The silence is said to have been agonizing.

Then, Khrushchev replied quietly, "Now you know why."

“Stalin acted not through persuasion, explanation, and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Whoever opposed this concept or tried to prove his [own] viewpoint, and the correctness of his [own] position, was doomed to removal from the leading collective and to subsequent moral and physical annihilation.”

Actions influence, even when delivered in words. Arguments become weak and impotent when put to leaders in true positions of power. Direct argument with the boss is futile. It is better to fulfill the boss’ interests.  Khrushchev understood this as a way of survival, eventually gaining power.  Khrushchev had a number of failures in his career under Stalin, and more then once came close to being purged himself.  His survival depended on taking action, not asking for permission.  Stalin may have been displeased with the outcome, but because Khrushchev took actions without being told, and did so in service to Stalin, Nikita kept dodging the bullet that so many others caught.

The story of Khrushchev dealing with the heckler is a visceral example of demonstration of the power of the threat of action.  Just as much as a leader's sarcastic remark can stop action, so can the veiled threat of the tyrant in power.

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