"One can lack any of the qualities of an organizer— with one exception— and still be effective and successful. That exception is the art of communication."You can lack curiosity, irreverence, imagination, and indeed, organization and still be an effective and successful organizer.
"People only understand things in terms of their experience, which means that you must get within their experience. Further, communication is a two-way process. If you try to get your ideas across to others without paying attention to what they have to say to you, you can forget about the whole thing."Aristotle and Bandler back Alinsky up. Rhetoric has a great breakdown on tailoring your message to specific audiences, where The Structure of Magic & Frogs Into Princes have great models for checking your experiences against those of your target/audience/partner.
In other words, part of being a great persuader is being a great listener. To be a miserable, useless persuader, either ignore what other people are saying or swallow it uncritically. Great listeners don't just pay attention to what people are saying, but to what they're omitting, when they're bullshiting, etc.
Communication occurs when it impacts the other party. Note that this can also be negative responses; 'his eyes light up and he responds, 'you racist, sexist, son of a bitch, I hope you get raped to death by cats.' This is part of being a good listener - you're able to confirm that you got the desired response.
"I know that I have communicated with the other party when his eyes light up and he responds, “I know exactly what you mean. I had something just like that happen to me once. Let me tell you about it!” Then I know that there has been communication."
We'll look at more Communication strategies after the jump.
"Every now and then I have been accused of being crude and vulgar because I have used analogies of sex or the toilet. I do not do this because I want to shock, particularly, but because there are certain experiences common to all, and sex and toilet are two of them."Analogies of the locker room work as well.
"Moses did not try to communicate with God in terms of mercy or justice when God was angry and wanted to destroy the Jews; he moved in on a top value and outmaneuvered God."There's an incident in the Old Testament where God decides He's going to wipe out the Jews and start fresh with just Moses. Since there are still Jews running about, obviously God didn't go through with it - because Moses persuaded Him out of it.
Now, there's argument among theologians as to how much of the story is symbolic or if God was literally planning on wiping out the Jews or was just testing Moses, but Alinsky decides to take it quite literally in order to make a point about communication.
"At any rate, [Moses] began to negotiate, saying, “Look, God, you’re God. You’re holding all the cards. Whatever you want to do you can do and nobody can stop you. But you know, God, you just can’t scratch that deal you’ve got with these people— you remember, the Covenant— in which you promised them not only to take them out of slavery but that they would practically inherit the earth. Yeah, I know, you’re going to tell me that they broke their end of it all so all bets are off. But it isn’t that easy. You’re in a spot. The news of this deal has leaked out all over the joint. The Egyptians, Philistines, Canaanites, everybody knows about it. But, as I said before, you’re God. Go ahead and knock them off. What do you care if people are going to say, “There goes God. You can’t believe anything he tells you. You can’t make a deal with him. His word isn’t even worth the stone it’s written on.’ But after all, you’re God and I suppose you can handle it.”The worst thing you can do is persuade someone that doing this or not doing that would be good for you. That is, that they should do A because A will benefit you. Why the hell should they want to benefit you? A similar error is to say that they should do A because A will benefit B (the cops, the poor, the Mexicans). Again, why the hell should they want to benefit the poor?
There are some people who can fill in the blanks themselves - 'I should help the cops because they help protect citizens and I am a citizen.' But why leave it up to them?
Side note - this is also good resume/cover letter writing advice. The company doesn't care what the job will do for you or how excited you are to work there. They care about what you can do for them. Show them that, and the job is yours.
"The organizer knows that even if they feel that way consciously, if he starts issuing orders and “explaining,” it would begin to build up a subconscious resentment, a feeling that the organizer is putting them down, is not respecting their dignity as individuals."Note that this is an issue for community organizers in particular - people coming in from the outside to organize a group of people different from himself.
"In the beginning the organizer is the general, he knows where, what, and how, but he never wears his four stars, never is addressed as nor acts as a general— he is an organizer."Again, this is most necessary for outsiders coming in.
"There are sensitive areas that one does not touch until there is a strong personal relationship based on common involvements. Otherwise the other party turns off and literally does not hear, regardless of whether your words are within his experience."Think of the classic white liberal in dreadlocks and a dashiki. Obviously, you don't want to talk to him, whether you're white, black, or whatever! Why? Because you know he's going to jump straight into talking about how much he relates to the black man's struggle and how his skin may be white but his soul is black. In other words, he's going to assume a strong personal relationship encroaching on extremely sensitive areas, when no such relationship exists.
This is why it's so important to be yourself. Not because you're so amazing, but because you're even worse at being a black lesbian Muslim.
As Immortal Technique once said, "I'd rather be rich and unhappy than broke and miserable." You don't talk to the poor about how unimportant money is to happiness, when their lives, families, and communities are bleeding out for lack of it. You save that speak for dumb white liberals.
"A classic example of the failure to communicate because the organizer has gone completely outside the experience of the people, is the attempt by campus activists to indicate to the poor the bankruptcy of their prevailing values. “Take my word for it— if you get a good job and a split-level ranch house out in the suburbs, a color TV, two cars, and money in the bank, that just won’t bring you happiness.” The response without exception is always, “Yeah. Let me be the judge of that one— I’ll let you know after I get it.”
"What is of particular importance here however is the fact that you were dealing with one specific person and not a general mass."On one hand, stereotypes exist for a reason. They give you a starting point and an effective filtering mechanism. But when you're dealing with a person one-on-one, they start to break down. Again, be an active listener.
The death of one is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic - this is not just a truism, it's how the human mind works. Ignore it at your peril.
"Samuel Adams, at the time when he was allegedly planning the Boston Massacre; he was quoted as saying that there ought to be no less than three or four killed so that we will have martyrs for the Revolution, but there must be no more than ten, because after you get beyond that number we no longer have martyrs but simply a sewage problem."
"It is essential that they be simple enough to be grasped as rallying or battle cries."As smart people, we discount the effectiveness of bumper-sticker logic. That's because smart people can be dumb too. "No taxation without representation" is simply better logic than "These increasing taxes are burdensome and besides, we don't have proper representation in Parliament!"
Or, "Political Correctness and government overreach from both parties combined with unfair trade deals are harming America's economy and domestic standard of living!" vs "Make America Great Again."
Or, "Feminism is Caner" vs "Feminism, while resulting in some positive advances for women as a whole, is undermining traditional family life which makes women less psychologically fulfilled, is pressuring women into having careers and families or else feeling like failures, lowering wages for men and forcing all families to have both partners in full-time employment, harming children by taking their mothers away from them, etc etc etc."
"It should be obvious by now that communication occurs concretely, by means of one’s specific experience. General theories become meaningful only when one has absorbed and understood the specific constituents and then related them back to a general concept. Unless this is done, the specifics become nothing more than a string of interesting anecdotes. That is the world as it is in communication.Alinsky's entire theory of communication is in this paragraph if we're willing to unpack it.
1). Cultivate a pool of experiences and anecdotes constantly so you can draw on them whenever necessary.
2). Actively read your audience to correctly gauge their emotions, needs, wants, etc.
3). Select an anecdote - a "teaching story" that will appeal to your particular audience while illustrating the point you want to make.
4). Relate the point of this teaching story back to the general concept - the general theory - in order to demonstrate both the point of the story and the validity of the general theory.