Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eloquence in an Interview Is Better Than Accuracy, Says Study

From FINSfinance:
If you're stumped by a question in an interview, fake it. That's the advice coming out of a new study from Harvard.

You'll have a better chance of making a good impression if you respond eloquently and slightly irrelevantly than if you answer truthfully but with a dozen "uhs" and "ums" thrown in, according to the study.
Two Harvard researchers found that a person's likeability increases the more articulate they are. In the study, they showed subjects videos from a political debate. In the first video, a candidate answers the posed question directly and well. In the second, he answers a similar question, and in the third, he answers it directly but inarticulately.

Subjects didn't notice when the candidate answered a similar question -- his likeability only went down a tenth of a point. But when he answered directly and inarticulately, subjects liked him less. The audience also didn't remember if the candidate fudged a similar question....MORE
Hence Grandfather's dictum: If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with bullshit.

Students of rhetoric would do well to study the March 23, 1955 press conference of President Eisenhower.
Relations with China were very, very tense, the State Department and some of the President's staff were convinced he would say something that started a nuclear war.

Press Secretary Hagerty says, ''The State Department people are really worried about what you're going to say about the offshore islands. They say, if you get a question on that, please refuse to answer.'' And Eisenhower says to Hagerty, ''Don't worry, Jim. If that comes up, I'll just confuse them.''
The question did come up:

Q. Joseph C. Harsch, Christian Science Monitor: Sir, I wonder if you can clarify something I am not quite clear on.

In your last press conference, referring to the use of atomic weapons, you said that when it was a question of strictly military targets for strictly military purposes, you saw no reason why they shouldn't be used just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else.

On January 12, we were talking about atomic weapons in connection with police action as distinct from a major war, and within that context you said you did not think that normally we would use the atomic weapons, because, you thought, you could not conceive of atomic weapons as a police weapon, and there was some further remark there that it was so destructive.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Harsch, the difference here, I think, is perfectly simple. A police action is not war; a police action is restoring order. 

Now, you don't send in bombs to restore order when a riot occurs. You get police people to restore order. Occasionally there may be a life lost if someone is too tough about it. 

But when you get into actual war, you have resorted to force for reaching a decision in a particular area; that is what I call War. 

And whether the war is big or not, if you have the kind of a weapon that can be limited to military use, then I know of no reason why a large explosion shouldn't be used as freely as a small explosion. That is all I was saying last week. 

But that is different from trying to restore order. Incidentally, if you want to follow some of these things off into the realm of great philosophical conjecture, suppose you won a war by the indiscriminate use of atomic weapons; what would you have left? Now, what would you do for your police action, for your occupation and restoration of order, and all of the things needed to be done in a great area of the earth?
I repeat, the concept of atomic war is too horrible for man to endure and to practice, and he must find some way out of it. That is all I think about this thing.

Q. Mr. Harsch: Sir, I am a little stupid about this thing.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am glad you didn't say I was! [Laughter]

Q. Mr. Harsch: It would seem to me there is big war at one end, just a local police action in which one person might be killed at the other; and, in between, what the military people would say was limited war. The Korean War, in a sense, was a limited war.

THE PRESIDENT. It became one, anyway.

Q. Mr. Harsch: It became one.
If we got into an issue with the Chinese, say, over Matsu and Quemoy, that we wanted to keep limited, do you conceive of using this specific kind of atomic weapon in that situation or not?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Harsch, I must confess I cannot answer that question in advance.
The only thing I know about war are two things: the most changeable factor in war is human nature in its day-by-day manifestation; but the only unchanging factor in war is human nature. 

And the next thing is that every war is going to astonish you in the way it occurred, and in the way it is carried out. 

So that for a man to predict, particularly if he has the responsibility for making the decision, to predict what he is going to use, how he is going to do it, would I think exhibit his ignorance of war; that is what I believe.

So I think you just have to wait, and that is the kind of prayerful decision that may some day face a President.
We are trying to establish conditions where he doesn't. 

-Transcript from The American Presidency Project at UCSB

CIA types later discovered the confusion this caused among Chinese intelligence and the hierarchy. 

Within a month they backed off from their threat to invade the islands and the threat that the Chinese, along with their nuclear-armed Soviet allies, would do something that led to a worldwide nuclear war passed.
(okay, I know it's not exactly Churchill enlisting the English language in the service of freedom but hey, it worked)

PBS' "American Experience" has video of the press conference.

Click here to listen to President Eisenhower discuss nuclear weapons at the press conference.

(Courtesy Eisenhower Library)