Larry David and Ben Franklin

On the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David has his idea of what constitutes appropriate behavior. For the most part, he lives according to that idea, he obnoxiously shares his views with almost everyone, and he clashes with people who have different views. 

How often is Larry right? People can debate that topic. But in a certain sense, Larry is wrong 95+% of the time. He's wrong in the sense that his interpersonal approach hardly ever fits the situation; he overfrequently gets into straightforward, extreme discussions on matters themselves, instead of talking to people based on who they are as people. 

Suppose there's another HBO series called Colonial America. In Season 1, Ben Franklin is a young, local politician, and there's another local politician named Oldenshaw who hates and ignores Ben. It's similar to the Jerry Seinfeld and Newman dynamic--only these two men don't even say, "Hello, Oldenshaw." "Hello, Ben." In episode 12, Ben wants to get on the good side of Oldenshaw, so he writes him a note saying he wants to borrow a rare book that Oldenshaw has in his library. Oldenshaw lends him the book, and Ben returns it a week later, along with another note thanking Oldenshaw for the favor. The following day, Ben sees Oldenshaw, and the latter starts talking to Ben as if the two of them are best friends. And during the rest of the show's run, they are in fact close friends. 

Now let's return to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Suppose there's an episode in which Larry's neighbor Tom discovers that Larry's home is five feet over the property line. And he tells Larry to rebuild part of his home so that it doesn't cross the line. Then Larry says, "Rebuild? I'll just pay you for the extra land that my home is using." Tom replies, "I want you to rebuild. Otherwise, I'm gonna file a lawsuit." "There's no point in me rebuilding, when I can just pay for the five feet of land." "I want you to rebuild." "I'll write you a check, Tom. $50,000. That's way more than the land is worth." "No, Larry. Rebuild." “I have an even better idea. I'll let you use the five feet of my home that goes over the line. It's in my dining room. You and your wife and can hang out there whenever you want, and I'll leave some lemonade out for you to drink, and maybe I'll slap you in the face a few times." 

Notice how Larry's approach is not like Ben Franklin's. Ben circumvented anything related to issues, sensibility, and  information. Instead he dealt with a Oldenshaw the person. He used an indirect tactic to do so. An extremely indirect tactic. As for Larry, he presented Tom with an argument regarding the matter at hand. 

Suppose there's another HBO series called Andrew Carnegie. In Season 1, Episode 8, Andrew Carnegie and Colonel Piper are partners in a bridge company, and they begin travelling from Pittsburgh to St. Louis in order to collect payment for a bridge. But in Episode 9, as they make their way to St. Louis, Piper says to Carnegie, "I'm feeling really homesick. I'm going back to Pittsburgh." Carnegie needs Piper to stay, since Piper will be a huge asset in their quest to collect the bridge payment. In previous episodes, we learned that Piper is a horse aficionado to the point where it is his obsession. Carnegie uses this to influence Piper. He says, "Before you go back to Pittsburgh, can you do me a favor? I'm planning to buy my sister a few horses as a gift. St. Louis has some of the best horses in the country.  Can you find me the best horses in town?" Upon hearing this, Piper becomes eager to go to St. Louis, whereas before he had been equally eager to not go there and head back to Pittsburgh. 

Carnegie managed to influence Piper, not by presenting a line of reasoning concerning the matter at hand, but by utilizing a completely separate item that has no relation to homesickness or the business. 

Now, imagine the same plot with Larry David in place of Andrew Carnegie. Larry would tell Piper, "Homesick? You're homesick? What are you--out of your mind? We're running a business! We got money to collect! What's so great about Pittsburgh, anyways?" Blah, blah, blah. 

Larry David's approach is vastly different from that of Andrew Carnegie. 

Let's consider another example via a fictional HBO series. This one is about the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. In one episode, President Wilson needs to send someone over to Europe as a peace emissary. Although Wilson's Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan baldy wants the position, Wilson instead gives it to his own confidant Edward House. And he instructs House to let Bryan know that he hasn't been chosen for the job. House then tells Bryan, "President Wilson wanted you--but since you're the Secretary of State, he can't have you occupy a much lower position like peace emissary. I mean, what will people think when they see an eminent figure like you on some unofficial mission, and you're in a meeting with people who aren't that well known."

Bryan ended up feeling flattered by Wilson's decision, even though ordinarily, it would have offended and upset him. The news itself didn't change, but House altered its presentation so it would be received well by Bryan.

Now, in this case, House had to address the issue. He couldn't just dodge it and focus on something else, the way Carnegie did with Piper. He had to present the idea, "I was chosen as peace emissary, and you weren't." But he didn't have to merely present it that way. So he found a way that accounted for who Bryan was and the way he perceived things. He managed to both bring up the issue and properly deal with the person, by presenting it from an unorthodox but believable perspective. It was especially believable by Bryan, simply because his ego would readily accept the idea that he was an important man who ranked above ta mere peace emissary.

(Dealing with people effectively requires dealing with people, as opposed to focusing on issues, sensibility, information, etc. People's views and behavior have a limited direct connection to issues, sensibility, and  information.)


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