What Mode Are You In – Preacher, Prosecutor, Or Politician?

One of Philip Tetlock’s big ideas* is that we are typically operating in one of three modes when expressing or receiving an idea. Being aware of these can dramatically change the approach we take for ourselves and our audience. The three modes (and a quick explanation of each) are:

Preacher – we hold a fundamentally inarguable idea that we will passionately express, protecting our ideals as sacred

Prosecutor – we will pick apart the logic of the opposition’s idea to prove our own point, marshaling the flaws in others

Politician – we will sway a crowd or sway with a crowd to stay in a relative position of power, politicking for support

Preachers work well with a congregation. Prosecutors work well in a courtroom. Politicians work well in government settings. We have to be careful when they’re out of their domains. We can embrace them when they’re within their domains.

Professionally, it’s all about setting the table and/or recognizing the table that’s been set. If we want to get an idea across or attempt to change someone’s mind, our best bet is to first understand the lay of the land and the roles everyone is playing.

Don’t persecute a preacher in front of their own congregation. Don’t try to politic a prosecutor, and be very careful if prosecuting a popular politician. Do preach to the people that already believe in your mission. Do prosecute a competitor’s product. Do recognize the ideas and the roles being applied and operate within them.

We want to think of this idea when leading, when following, when making sales, when planning our marketing, and anywhere else we are dealing with the thoughts, opinions, and values of others. What’s the best way to find those out? Start by observing, asking questions, and listening.

If we want to gain alignment we have to understand where everyone is starting from. We can strategize from there and know which mode, preacher, prosecutor, or politician, to operate from and to.

*These modes run throughout Adam Grant’s book, “Think Again.” For THE book on predictions and decisions in the face of uncertainty, see Philip Tetlock’s “Superforecasting.”

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