Avoid the Niagara Falls Reaction

How many times have you been in a situation where you’re in the midst of a discussion and suddenly after one comment you find yourself going over the top?

American politics and organizational life seem to be dominated by such trigger phrases. They occur in our personal lives as well. There’s always one phrase that elicits a reflexive reaction that makes you frustrated.

The challenge is not to overreact when you encounter these trigger phrases. Smart leaders make adjustments, but they don’t overreact. Often, discussions are destroyed by emotional reactions.

I was recently having a discussion with one of my neighbors. We were casually sitting by a creek on a fairly lackadaisical weekend and I, being the somewhat liby academic, made reference to the strength of socialized medicine.

Now I was only trying to make a point about collective responsibility, but the word ‘socialized’ elicited a reaction and a series of generalizations which took the discussion nowhere. After the generalizations we went straight to accusations.

I notice that if I say the names George Bush or Richard Nixon to one of my colleagues with a sociology degree–I’m  likely to incite an over-the-top reaction. One colleague of mine went as far as to say, George Bush was a lousy cheerleader at Yale…and so ended our conversation on Iraq.

In a discussion about Richard Nixon, my friend was only able to give the man credit for his trip to China and, begrudgingly, give him posthumous credit for the ultimate exercise in socialism; price fixing.

Globalization. Gun control. Free market. Guantanamo. Welfare. Free trade. Fracking. Nuclear waste. Single provider. Immigration. These expressions are all up there with Nixon and Bush and, in some sections, Obama isn’t far behind. Point in fact, there are trigger words that trigger overreactions that stifle discussion.

There are expressions that send us all over Niagara Falls in a barrel. If you don’t know what the Niagara Falls reaction is take a few minutes, grab your kids, and enjoy the video below.

The Niagara Falls reaction does not advance the debate; it stifles the debate. And though not as crude as Lou Costello’s cellmate, it is equally stifling and should be avoided by all. Have a nice weekend.

Leadership On the Edge

Leaders and the Facts

Leaders giving leadership lessons to other leaders is usually a dispute concerning perspectives on desired outcomes. What gets lost in the debate are the “real facts.” Former Senator Moynihan had the best take on this matter. He is paraphrased as saying, “Everyone has a right to their own opinion. They do not have a right to their own facts.” Another take on factual disputes is the saying, “There are always three parties to determining the facts. He said. She said. And the truth.”

Here’s an excerpt from CBN:

“Mike Huckabee tells the Brody File that Mitt Romney needs to admit that his healthcare plan in Massachusetts was a disaster…That’s what you want in a leader. Someone who says I tried something. It was different. It was bold; it didn’t work so we’ll try something else. That I can live with. What a person can’t really do is to say, “yes I tried it but it really worked great” when it didn’t.”

BLG Leadership Insights

Obama: Health Reform and the Leadership of Nuts & Bolts

obamaBy Guest Contributor: William Sonnenstuhl

William Sonnenstuhl, professor at Cornell University, maintains that the time has come for President Obama to take charge of the nuts and bolts.

Leaders need to know when to talk nuts and bolts and when to talk ideology. President Obama’s speech on health care was a middle-of-the-road argument targeted on uniting the conservative and progressive wings of the Democratic Party with a bit of give-the-Republicans-Hell for their obstructionist behavior and scare tactics thrown in to keep everyone’s emotions revved up….