Pete Buttigieg is the Secretary of Transportation in the Biden administration. He has made an interesting habit of going on Fox News and willingly submitting himself to what his interlocutors clearly anticipate to be difficult “gotcha” questions that will leave their liberal target squirming on camera. Secretary Buttigieg seems to always come out the clear winner and I think there is something to be learned from it.
The easy answer is that Buttigieg is smarter and more polished than the Fox News interviewers, which he is, but I thank that’s easy to overrate. There is no shortage of smart people who wouldn’t fair half as well as the Secretary does. Part of it is his calm and poise, but credit should also go to just being nice. That niceness really puts people on the back foot. The secret sauce, in my estimation, is that he never for a second sounds like he is arguing. There’s no sense that he is interested in a back in forth. He never gives anyone an opening to raise their voice, to seem attacked.
But it’s not just being nice. The interviewer in the first clip quickly realizes that his question has failed to get the desired reaction, and subsequently tries to interrupt him at multiple points. The Secretrary simply ignores him and proceeds with his answer without missing a beat or raising his voice. He’s the G-d— Secretary of Transportation. He doesn’t have to be deferential to some teleprompter anchorman trying to raise points of political decorum and social norms with a member of the opposition party that has been given no quarter on their network for 20 years.
So how do you be like Pete?
- Be nice.
- Know your stuff.
- Never defer to anyone who isn’t nice and doesn’t know their stuff.
Being nice is inclusive of being polite, but there is more to it. It means being generous in the motives you assume in others, including those who are questioning or arguing with you. It means using tones of voice and choices of language that don’t imply you are dealing with an enemy or a fool, even when dealing with a foolish enemy.
Knowing your stuff means that you can explain choices and positions clearly and concisely in a manner than allows the people listening to you to actually learn something. Knowing you stuff, however, also confers on you the right to finish your thoughts. If others prefer your conversation be more akin to a verbal brawl, that’s their prerogative, but that doesn’t mean they get to dictate where your thoughts begin and end just because they’ve lost control of the outcome. Knowledge should confer some privleges, be them however limited.
And finally, being like Pete means never deferring to people who don’t want to play by the rules of basic civility and have nothing to contribute to the conversation. You’ve got a job to do and being nice will help you do it all the better. So be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.