Last night, I attended yet another wonky civic meeting at the request of some neighbors who were struggling with powerful attorneys representing a major developer. This happens all the time, and is a classic David-vs-Goliath situation. As I was listening to those giving testimony, I was struck by…
…just what the attorneys representing the developer were not saying. They were asked questions by the members and Chair of the civic body to whom they were presenting testimony, but instead of answering the questions, they said what they wanted to say (or were prepped to say).
This behavior is a fundamental of public speaking and media response. Don’t answer the question — say what you want to say as IF your response IS the answer to the question. I have been trained to do that during media training when (back in the day), I was a designated media spokesperson on behalf of my (former) employer where I frequently appeared in live interviews on national and cable television news.
As I observed this behavior going on, and watching presentation of all the pretty charts, graphs, and illustrations by the developer’s attorneys — as well as the shock of my neighbors who were asking incredulously, “why aren’t they answering the questions?”, I knew that eventually that I would have an opportunity to call foul and get these guys on record with direct answers to questions that they were avoiding.
Having served as the elected Chair of this wonky civic body in years past, I knew their procedures. So just as the developer’s expensive-suited and dorky dress-shoed attorneys ended their presentation of their flashy show, I waited for a signal. And it came…
[Chair]: “Are there others with expertise in the room who would like to speak?”
… sees me and about a dozen others rise …
Oh, how about “that guy in the boots,” pointing to me.
There were at least a dozen people who were there and who wanted to speak, mostly from the position of passionate outrage. But being passionate, angry, and making accusations about “what those attorneys did (or didn’t do)” does not actually produce the results needed to deal with this matter.
That is the attorney’s tactic — get Joe-Shmoe all upset that he turns into a blithering boob in a public meltdown. The attorneys, having remained calm and deliberate, come across as having won their points and often win the vote because they never lost their cool. Those who do express anger end up losing because they do not support their position with facts, rather, they reduce themselves to name-calling and making statements that are accusatory of process, rather than supporting their case from a factual standpoint.
So when I rose to speak, I simply pointed out exactly what the attorneys did not say. I ticked off six specific items that were not addressed and unanswered. I knew from my past experience that it is the answers to those items that would influence the decision.
The Chair knew exactly what I was doing and why. When I was in her position years ago, I relied on people like me to do the same thing — to set me up for asking those direct questions and getting direct answers (or else…).
Another half-hour of dodging the questions resulted in the Board voting on the side of my neighbors, against the position of the developer, because I knew precisely how to defeat them and play the game.
As the vote was announced, sputtering Lead Attorney gave me a look that could kill, and I heard him muttering to a colleague, “here this guy in jeans and boots shows up and throws a monkey wrench into this beautiful project. Where’d he come from?”
To which his colleague said, “you don’t know him? He’s been around since the stone ages. When you hear him ride up on his Harley and roll in here in those boots, you gotta watch out.”
Life is short: watch out for “that guy in those boots!” LOL. Always a pleasure to BE a part of the community that I love.