Saturday Morning Rounds August 1, 2020 - President Obama's eulogoy for Rep. John Lewis, and what it can teach you about influencing others

Posted by BossB, MD on August 1, 2020
BossB, MD

Saturday Morning Rounds

A weekly round-up of career & negotiation content for women physicians

What got our attention

President Obama's eulogy for Rep. John Lewis

The speech is ~40min, but well worth the listen regardless of which side of the aisle you inhabit. Plus, President Obama is just about the only speaker that you can listen to at 1.5x without missing anything.

More on that, and a few other things you can glean from this speech to make yourself more effective at influencing others, in our "tip of the week" below.

Who we're following 

They say it takes a village to raise a child

They also say that writing is an act of creation, a "labor of love"

So if what "they say" is true, does that make President Obama's former speechwriter, Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) an OB/midwife/doula?

We're not sure, but we do know that his Twitter feed delivers (see what we did there??) a consistently interesting and thoughtful perspective.

BBMD tip of the week

There's a lot that can be learned from President Obama's speech, but we're going to highlight 3 skills today that he modeled especially well.


We made a joke about how you can listen to Obama at 1.5x and still absorb everything, and we're not the only ones - SNL, every comedy news show, and every White House Correspondent's Dinner act during his administration made a lot of much better jokes about his speaking cadence over the years.

It's unique and sometimes funny, yes, but it also works. And it's something we practice A LOT with out clients.

See, it's often the case that when we slow down our speech or let a silence hang for a beat, we feel awkward. We worry we might seem like we don't know what we're talking about. We worry like might seem weak or unsure of ourselves.

Most of us are incredibly uncomfortable with silence - especially silence while discussing an already-uncomfortable topic - which happens often during business conversations.

So we talk fast, we use vocalized pauses ("um, like, ya know"), and we hamstring ourselves by undercutting the strength of whatever we said before the silence with a bunch of qualifiers to make others feel more comfortable.

Not any more.

We offer a reframe - silence is not a sign that you're weak or don't know what to say, it's a sign that you're thoughtful and worth listening to. It's a sign that your word means something, that you're a serious person, and that you respect your counterpart's time and attention, and expect the same in return.

Once you can think of a silence like that, you can use those pauses to command a conversation the way a conductor commands an orchestra. You can hang in the balance and take a moment to be intentional with what you want to say next. And you can be pleasantly surprised by what your counterpart will concede just in order to break the silence that's made them uncomfortable, but that you can sit with.

As always, practice makes perfect.

Write out a script for some kind of business conversation - any kind will do, but the more uncomfortable or potentially confrontational the better - and then practice it in a mirror. Time your first attempt as you would usually speak it, then try as hard as you can on your second go-round to take at least 150-200% that amount of time to say the same words. You'll blow yourself away with how much more expressive you can be and how much more worthy of being taken seriously you'll sound.

Be Other-Centered

We talk about this concept a lot, and for good reason. 

It's no secret that President Obama is a Democrat, and the Democratic party is well-known to be more secular and specifically to advocate more strongly for the separation of church and state than Republicans. This is an important core value in the Democratic party. However, here are a few pull quotes from Obama's speech:

"James wrote to the believers..."

"Like John the Baptist preparing the way, like those Old Testament prophets speaking truth to kings..."

"As The Lord instructed Paul..."

Obama probably wouldn't have said those things if he was giving a speech in most other contexts - he almost certainly would have actively avoided them if he was speaking in front of, say, the ACLU.

But during this speech, he was in a church. So, he made an active attempt to be other-centered. Obama read the room and spoke to his audience.

And so should you.

To provide a more applicable example, we just had a call yesterday with a client who's been passed up for consideration to become a partner in her private orthopedic practice after two years of employment with them. Their bullshit excuse is that COVID has made money tight - really, they probably just wanna profit off her efforts for another year.

So, how can you speak to your audience and be other-centered in such a situation? Well, Orthopedics is a male-dominated field well-known for being the "jocks of medicine," so we asked if that was true of her counterparts and she said yes. 

This lead to us building a strategy together that hinged on an analogy - we named it the "put me in coach" approach. 

We'll spare you the details of the analogy other than to say that the idea is for her to frame this to them as the feeling of being passed up for varsity your junior year but not knowing why.

Such an analogy works because it:

  • Connects  to a context that's meaningful to her counterpart
  • Humanizes her by highlighting the pain and unfairness she's feeling in a way they can empathize with
  • Humanizes them as coaches who have to make a tough call, thus avoiding the shame/blame/defensiveness game just enough to make space for a productive conversation

Never pass up an opportunity to maximize connection with your audience.

Reject Zero-Sum Frames

One of our favorite quotes from the speech was:

"We don't have to choose between protest and politics - it's not an either-or situation, it's a both-and situation"

So many conversations hit a stalemate because someone frames things as zero-sum, as win-lose. That's an "either-or" construction, and it's almost always a logical fallacy and a trap (often an unintentional one - just a reflection of that person's fear/scarcity/deficit mindset).

This often takes the form of "squabbling" over how big of a "slice of the pie" each party gets.

Instead, we always always always want to focus on growing the whole pie for everyone. That's a "both-and" mindset - it's also the reality of any productive business relationship, a great way to get on the same side of the table/on the same team as your counterpart, and the best quickest most effective shortcut to maximizing your outcome in a negotiation.

Quote we're contemplating
"We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed
Perplexed, but not in despair
Persecuted, but not abandoned
Struck down, but not destroyed"
- 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (also, President Obama)
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Have a wonderful weekend, y'all!