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SAN FRANCISCO – FrameLab co-founder Gil Duran was interviewed by Scott Shafer and Marisa Lagos on KQED Public Radio’s “Political Breakdown.” In the 20-minute interview, Gil talks about his journey through journalism and politics, as well as his work with Dr. Lakoff at FrameLab.
You can listen to the interview by clicking on the link. Gil’s segment begins about nine minutes into the show.
There’s one simple step you can take to instantly make your communications more powerful. By eliminating just one word from your writing you can automatically avoid a major communication pitfall. The word?
Not. Cut the Not!
Think about it. You normally use this word to say the opposite of what you are trying to say or do. You use it to counter an argument or idea, as if positioning this three-letter negation in front of a bad idea is a magic trick to make it disappear. But this is the exact opposite of how human brains process information.
When you repeat a false argument, even for the purpose of saying it’s “not true,” you help make the argument stronger in the minds of your readers. Because of the way your brain’s neurocircuitry works, you activate the frames you are trying to negate. Those bad ideas become stronger in the brains of your audience. You also waste space at a time when concise writing has never been more important.
Think about it: It’s tough to get, and keep, a reader’s attention in today’s crowded information environment. Twitter only gives you 280 characters. An effective Facebook post is just as brief. To be successful, be succinct. The same is true for business memos, media pitches, press releases, and speeches.
Powerful communications get to the point quickly, make it effectively, and provide the reader with clear paths. So, how much time and space do you waste saying the opposite of what you’re trying to say?
Eliminating the word “not” from your writing forces you to make the proactive case instead of just (lazily) negating your opponent’s argument. Try it!
That’s the simple point.
For more examples, keep reading.
Warning: In this section, we will break our own rule in order to illustrate the point with examples.
Let’s take the issue of immigration. Immigrants are under attack from Republicans, who use the issue to stoke political polarization and energize their base. One of their tactics is to make false accusations against the immigrant community. And how do many progressives respond to these attacks? Too often, they respond by repeating the attacks.
Republicans accuse immigrants of being “dangerous criminals.” Progressives respond by saying immigrants are “not dangerous criminals.” Republicans accuse immigrants of being “terrorists.” Progressives respond by saying “immigrants are not terrorists.”
This also happens when talking about the environment. Republicans created the concept of “clean coal” so that opponents would be forced to argue “coal is not clean.”
Yet by constantly associating the word “coal” with “clean,” environmental activists do the work of their opponents. The same is true on the immigration issue. When immigrant rights advocates take the bait and repeat the negative labels that Republicans apply – even to negate them – they strengthen the association between the two.
President Trump makes this same mistake when he tweets “No Collusion!” He automatically makes us think about collusion with Russia, just as Richard Nixon made everyone think of a crook when he went on TV and said, “I am not a crook.”
So how to avoid this trap? First, Cut the Not!
When anti-immigrant politicians say: “Immigrants are [negative label]”
Respond by saying: “Immigrants are [positive label]”
Examples: “Immigrants are our neighbors.” “Immigrants are our families.” “Immigrants are our heroes.”
Never say: “Immigrants are not [negative label]”
The same goes for environmental issues.
When fossil fuel companies say: “Coal is [positive label]”
Respond by saying: “Coal is [negative label]”
Examples: “Coal is dirty.” “Coal is dangerous.” “Coal is harmful.”
Never say: “Coal is not [positive label]”
Always say what you believe, directly. Whatever the issue or argument at hand, remember that the word “not” generally ensures you will repeat your opponent’s argument.
Practice: Try cutting “not” from your writing. It may be impossible to avoid using it in some contexts. But by simply becoming more aware of how this word functions, your communication will automatically improve.
Give it a try, and let us know how it works out for you.
Gil and George
BERKELEY – Dr. George Lakoff and Gil Duran today officially launched FrameLab Communications, a message framing and communications strategy firm. FrameLab will work with a select group of businesses, nonprofit organizations, and political operations that serve the public interest.
Dr. Lakoff is the world’s best-known expert on the framing of social and political issues. He is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught for 44 years after teaching for six years at Harvard and the University of Michigan. He is the best-selling author of Don’t Think of An Elephant (2004), the handbook on political framing, as well as many other books. Metaphors We Live By (1980), which he co-wrote with Mark Johnson, is credited with helping to inspire the user interface for the Mac.
“We know from the brain and cognitive sciences that thought is carried out by neural circuitry and is largely inaccessible to consciousness. Techniques for studying unconscious thought have allowed us to discover the implicit worldviews motivating the progressive versus the conservative understandings of current issues and even facts,” said Dr. Lakoff. “FrameLab brings this research to bear on how best to frame values-based messages effectively and communicate them widely.”
Duran spent over a decade as a strategist and spokesperson for California’s top elected officials. He served as Press Secretary to Governor Jerry Brown twice – first at Oakland City Hall (2003-2007), then in Sacramento (2011-2013). He also served as Communications Director for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Communications Director for California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, and Press Secretary for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa. Most recently, he served as Senior Vice President for Communications and Senior Advisor at Tom Steyer’s NextGen America.
“When I read Don’t Think of An Elephant in 2005, I experienced a seismic shift in my approach to communications and gained a powerful advantage over the competition,” said Duran. “I’ve had the privilege of consulting with Dr. Lakoff during some of the biggest challenges in California politics, and it’s an honor to formalize our partnership with FrameLab. We look forward to using every bit of our knowledge and skill to serve the public good at this critical time.”
At FrameLab, Lakoff and Duran will focus on high-level framing, messaging, and strategy for clients, and will offer a full range of services in cooperation with a partner firm. Lakoff and Duran co-host a podcast – also called FrameLab – which focuses on politics, language, and the brain. It has thousands of listeners in over 50 countries.
Their partnership has also produced multiple viral social media pieces focused on framing, messaging, and communications.
For more information on how to work with FrameLab, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510-545-9773.
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