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How to Master the Art of Influence Washington Style

Copyright 2006 Harrison Monarth Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Representative of the People of the 1st District of Rhode Island, proved his mastery of influence with the use of a powerful influence strategy just this weekend, after crashing his car into a guard rail near the Capitol building in the very early morning hours. The influencing strategy Patrick Kennedy employed is called "Self-Disclosure". The communication act of self-disclosure, in order to be defined as such specifically, according to social scientist Paul Cozby (1973), must contain the following three elements:

1. Personal information about the sender must be contained in the message

2. The sender must communicate the intimate information verbally

3. A specific audience must be the target I would add to this that in order to truly qualify as a strategic influencing technique, self-disclosure must have a firm objective. Examples of objectives for self-disclosure could be to establish rapport, gain sympathy, inspire loyalty, self-validation, moral obligation, self-defense, et cetera. In Congressman Kennedy's case, his decision to disclose highly personal information about himself to a national audience can be traced back to the following objectives: Self-defense: Rather than wait for the news media and tabloid reporters to "dig up" the sensitive information and present it in a sensationalist fashion, Kennedy decided to preempt any negative press, by volunteering the information about his addiction to prescription medication and his ongoing bouts with depression. This would neutralize any notion of a "cover-up" and underscore the perception of Kennedy as an honest and "human" public servant. Image management: Research has shown that we perceive people as more positive and attractive when they disclose personal information about themselves in conversations and social interaction. Patrick Kennedy has already indicated that he has no intentions of stepping down as Congressman, so in order to maintain and likely enhance the relationship with his constituents in Rhode Island, it is in his best interest to be seen in a particularly positive light after the embarrassing incident last week. Social influence: This is another powerful component of this strategy, in that it helps position Patrick Kennedy as a role model to others with similar issues. The message: I have a problem. I'm fessing up to it and I'm immediately going to seek help. The Congressman promptly checked himself into the Mayo clinic over the weekend to start treatment. Others, confronted with addiction issues, by a family member, friend or their own, will likely see Kennedy as a person "doing the right thing", feeling sympathetic and positive towards him. Moral responsibility: Patrick Kennedy not only represents himself, but as an elected official represents the people of the 1st district of Rhode Island in Congress. To them he has a moral obligation to perform his duties to the best of his abilities and in their best interest. His disclosure of the personal issues he's facing as evidenced by the incident of the other night, will show his sincerity and moral fabric to his constituents and again position him as a person who can be trusted to tell the truth even if it is embarrassing and a potential risk to his credibility. The inherent candor of the act of self-disclosure effectively counteracts any loss of credibility the self-discloser may suffer. Patrick Kennedy will likely increase his popularity in the State of Rhode Island, and the nation in general, after his genuine act of self-disclosure over the past few days. Politicians often suffer the wrath of public opinion with their tendency to cover up potentially embarrassing or reputation- damaging information, when a well-timed act of self-disclosure and honesty could improve their public standing and increase the public's faith in their elected officials.


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