Just like an alley-oop pass to a teammate, “lobbing one to the other guy” can also score points. Being gracious in your communications is often unexpected in certain circumstances and can therefore be unnerving to the competition or opposition.

In my work with political candidates, I’ve seen that “making love and peace, not hate and war” works best when it comes to rhetoric. Audiences—in this case, voters—can be put off by the negativity and confrontations that candidates often engage in during debates or media interviews. It can be a turnoff. On the other hand, they seem willing to listen and offer support if the candidate sounds more positive.

Let me share a bit of advice I always give candidates. There are some basic questions they need to be prepared to answer, including, “How are you different from your opponent?” My advice is to first address the similarities—that is, to list a few admirable traits they both have in common – and then get to the parts where they differ. So, the answer might go something like this: “Candidate X and I are both extremely family-oriented and dedicated public servants who want the best for all residents in terms of jobs and education for our children, but we see some of the issues a little differently . . .” A little alley-oop – and then the slam dunk!

Here you can see the rule of first impressions at play. If you come out swinging and then soften up, people are likely to remember the swinging. If you come out gently and graciously and then take subtle swings, the graciousness is likely to stick. Positives first.

[Excerpted from Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World, http://amzn.to/1vkcx]

Beth Levine