Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Obama's speech is still worth a listen...

It has been a couple of weeks since President Obama's speech in Egypt, but if you didn't read or better yet listen to the speech, it is still worth having a look:
There are several reasons why I think examining what he did in this speech can be instructive.
First, his speech was designed to connect with his audience by understanding where they were coming from, and meeting them there. He used references to their history and religion, indicating both respect and that he had done his homework. When you are talking with other people of different backgrounds, do you do this?
Second, he avoided "tainted language." He never used the word terrorist, but rather used the word "extremist." He understood that while the dictionary meaning of the word terrorist may be clear, there are other common interpretations which are not helpful when building bridges.
Third, he spoke of the common humanity. An exercise I use in my workshops is to have people independently come up with two different words, and then find what is common. This usually involves looking at the bigger picture to find their shared characteristics, as Obama did here.
Fourth, the goal of building bridges itself. Obama recognizes (and this is well described in Game Theory) that more can be accomplished by beginning with cooperation, and only resorting to confrontation if the other players insist on not cooperating. How do you approach negotiations?
Fifth, he acknowledges that large issues take a long time to resolve. He is realistic - a key characteristic in Thinking for Results.
Sixth, he made a reasonable request from the other side. After approaching from a place of cooperation, he asked for cooperation in return. He rejected stereotypes of Islam, and they asked that Muslims reject stereotypes of the U.S.
Seventh, he acknowledged mistakes, and though they were committed before he arrived, he did not blame others for the mistakes, but focused on how they could be rectified.
Finally, he had a powerful and inspiring closing to his speech.
So please have a look, or even better, spend 55 minutes to listen to the speech. Irrespective of his position as the U.S. President, Obama is a model of leadership.

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