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Becoming More Effective
Skills, Abilities, Understandings & Attitudes

Being an effective activist requires skills, a whole bunch of them in fact. It also requires "soft" skills, not really trainable, so not really skills as such. We will discuss these as abilities. They are more like talents that need to be nurtured, much as one would imagine nurturing any capacity that is way more art than science. And being an effective advocate, especially when reaching out to people who may not share your views, requires understandings and attitudes that make possible interactions that are positive, friendly, and productive. These same understandings and attitudes can give you the critically important ability to avoid getting sucked into painful and counterproductive conflicts.

Strengthening Your Skills

Skills are at least partially trainable, testable, and measurable. While skill levels may vary due to natural differences in ability, almost anyone can become relatively better at the types of skills covered in this section. These include verbal and written communication, active listening, conflict resolution, negotiation, mediation, trust building, group leadership, group process facilitation, and more. A key set of skills involves improving our ability to manage our own emotions, harnessing them to help us and preventing them from undermining our success. More >>

Nurturing Abilities That Build Success

The distinction between skills and abilities as used here is that skills are at least partly teachable whereas the abilities described below are somewhat more difficult to teach, or may be teachable but only if approached like an art, teaching by practice, by imitation, and by cultivation of the powers of observation. Abilities include voicing your views in positive terms as much as possible, avoiding giving pointless and unnecessary offense, recognizing unfair arguments and fallacies and not using them, recognizing and diffusing unproductive or counterproductive conflicts, recognizing hidden agreement that may be overlooked in the heat of argument, seeing yourself through the eyes of others and as a result being much smarter about how you present yourself, emotional self-control and self-understanding, being self-aware so you can actually apply in real time what you might otherwise grasp only after reflection, and building your credibility and influence. More >>

From Self-Understanding To A New Attitude

A good attitude is always helpful in persuasive communication, but when attempting to communicate across America's divide, the right attitude isn't just helpful, it is essential. For example, if you are working to expand support for climate action into groups that don't support it now - convincing another fraction of conservatives that climate change is a real and serious problem - you'll have a difficult time getting past preemptory dismissal unless you get your tone of voice right. That requires getting your attitude right, and that in turn requires understanding ourselves much better than we do now. At present, we seem to be caught up in a reciprocally reinforcing negative spiral, feeding off each other's hostility, in a race to totally destroy whatever social capital our country has left. Democratic breakdown lies at the end of this path, and that's a place we really don't want to go. More >>

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