From Communication

The Pitching Plague: When Communication Becomes Inhumane

“Always be pitching.”

by Ikenna Nwachukwu

Ikenna Nwachukwu is a freelance writer currently based in Lagos, Nigeria.

Photo Credit: Geralt, pixabay

It’s now the cliché parting admonition from your average self-styled marketing guru. They lob it at you with the sort of light, graceful touch you would usually associate with the dispensing of profound wisdom by grey haired griots.

In their words, you should never tire of selling your merchandise; you should never cease to put your brand before the potential customer’s eyes. And because your would-be customer may be found anywhere, you will need to sell your stuff everywhere you go.

Pitching – the practice of presenting a structured, tailor made account of who we are and what helpful service we can offer the person with whom we’re speaking – isn’t the exclusive preserve of the bothersome salesperson.

Managers and section heads at corporate organizations pitch ideas to their CEO’s all the time; CEO’s pitch proposals to each other. Politicians pitch themselves and their ideas to the public. And (I say this with a mischievous wink) young men pitch themselves to women they’re looking to get romantically involved with.

If you are an entrepreneur trying to get your conversation partner interested in your services, you could whip out a pre-rehearsed thirty second ‘who we are and what we do’ speech from off the top of your head. If you would want to capture the attention of someone you’ve wanted to date, you might prefer to chat them up with some smooth lines you have memorized.

There’s a simple reason for this: these pre-designed statements tend to come off better in speaking than rough communication. Because most of us don’t speak impeccable Shakespearean off the cuff, we might prefer an easy remedy: come up with the words and store them in our mind’s lockers until we need to use them.

But there are problems with this.

Dishonesty in Pitching

The very idea that we have to compose our address to others beforehand seems lazy and a little inauthentic. Of course, we wouldn’t mind listening to a person read a script if we expected that it might happen (as it does at certain types of public events).

But shooting out impressive pre-memorized lines at the start or middle of a conversation with someone who genuinely thinks you’re weaving the words together on the spot strikes me as slightly dishonest. Perhaps I’m an excessively sensitive jerk, but this is what I think (and I’m aware that a lot of other people think this too).

However, the main gripe I have with pitching is that it seems to cast the person at its receiving end as less than a complete human being.

It presents them as objects to be ‘pitched’ at, as target boards to be aimed at and hit. We ready ourselves for an encounter with a prospect by filling our mind’s quiver with sharp arrows (words), and practice taking shots in front of mirrors in our rooms or offices.

When the time comes, we get out into the world to strike our prospects down. If we succeed, we ‘incapacitate’ them and drag their now submissive wills into our sphere; if we miss the mark, we go back to our closets to adjust our strategy or replace our word-arrows.

The less than genuine nature of these pitches often becomes evident only after they have taken down their targets.

The politician who gets into public office via the votes harvested from people she convinced soon becomes oblivious of their plight, and fails to serve them as she had pledged in her pitches.

A man treats with contempt the lady whose heart he had captured with sweet memorized words. These things happen even with relationships founded upon real convictions. It’s easy to see why there could be more prevalent outcomes with connections initiated by a pitch, given that it makes it easier to be insincere, and allows wider room for skin deep commitments to be made.

What’s the alternative then? And how do we wean ourselves off this façade-building, truth-obscuring way of communicating with each other?

As an advocate of plainness and authenticity, I would suggest that we let go of our preference for ‘canned’ ready-made speeches.

Maybe your conversation partners may not be patient enough to wade through your garbled, fumbling words with you. If that’s your fear, you can deal with it by learning to be a better communicator.

Note that this is quite different from stuffing your head with lines of flow-chart-like language meant to be regurgitated as occasion demands. Instead of memorizing eloquent speech, work on becoming an eloquent speaker. Train yourself to convey your thoughts coherently.

When you have made a fair amount of progress on this, your communication will be much better. You won’t have to sound robotic at one moment (as you rattle out your predetermined words), and stumble through mannerisms in the next. Even more importantly, you will be treating your audience like the humans they are.

You see SIX I see NINE.

A Rule of Thumb Inspired by Rudolf Carnap

 by Johnny

One day, I was striking up an interesting conversation with a friend about laws. We looked into the diversity of laws, viz. laws differ from region to region, from country to country, from era to era. We shared a moment of silent admiration after our shared realization that ages of legal and moral laws were all products of human actions.

It’s funny that humans authored this intricate and enormous system of rules and norms, but we can’t seem to escape the banality of our lives.

All of a sudden, my friend said: “You know, even though humans wrote all these laws. The credit goes to God.”

“Here we go.” I muttered.

“No, man, look. Where did intelligence come from? Where did moral intuitions come from? Intelligence and moral intuitions are teleologically meaningful things. They are meant for something. Like helping us establish and further our pursuit of truth and goodness.

It’s natural to think that they exist by the design of a creator. If you see a watch on the beach, would you think it’s more likely that some watchmaker fashioned it or would you prefer to think that the watch formed naturally? I’m allowing the possibility of a watch forming naturally. It is indeed possible, however remotely.

But I choose to believe that something as intricate as a watch, which clearly has a specific purpose, is the product of thoughtful design. Now, would you really rather believe that intelligence and moral intuition formed naturally?”

“A scenario of intelligence and moral intuitions forming naturally, by means of mutations and natural selection is actually more plausible. My narrative tells a much fuller story. Check it:

The origin of intelligence is just one or a few mutations. Before you say your creator is behind mutation, there is a full bio-physics story that explains how a mutation occurs as well. Let’s leave that aside for now.

The genes of intelligence get added to the gene pool and get passed onto future generations. This ability turned out to be advantageous or even the key to survival in a lot of situations. So intelligence and its corresponding genes stayed in a lot of species’ gene pools rather stably, until hominids began consuming cooked foods, which, in time, increased brain capacity and gave intelligence a huge boost.

So, to answer your question, yes, I’d much prefer believing that intelligence formed naturally, rather than by the design of some creator, of which I see no evidence. The same goes for moral intuitions; there is a full narrative that does not involve a creator.”.

Our stimulating conversation eventually turned into a repartee, and it could have gone a lot worse if we weren’t friends.

Too many of us get lured into these disagreements, which trap everybody in an atmosphere of anger and rashness, and nobody ever gets convinced. Then, perhaps we shouldn’t wantonly get into these arguments.

A Christian, who praises Jesus for her fruitful day, shouldn’t be met with my scorn if I asked about her day; if I wanted to convince an atheist, empiricist good-samaritan to come with me to a Hare Krishna soup kitchen, and he says no, I can either try to persuade him by making the case that humanitarian work is humanitarian work with or without religious branding, or I could move on to the next person.

Barring extreme situations, there is really no need to discuss a person’s narrative of life, the cosmos, or anything, unless the narratives are the topic that is agreed upon.

Make maximal use of what agreements you can solicit, and tolerate other people’s alternative narrative.