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Political Communication: «Politicians are Psychotic»

The students of MGIMO’s both Russian and International Master’s Programs got a unique opportunity to attend a two-day intensive course «GLOBAL LEADERSHIP» delivered by Professor Samuel Potolicchio (December 10–11, 2012).

«Politicians are psychotic» as was Sam Potolocchio’s opening line in when posing the question «Who would want every second of their life not only recorded and followed, but scrutinized by their opposition?» Sam Potolocchio is a Professor at Georgetown University and hailed by the Princeton Review as one of the best professors in America. Prof Potolocchio organizes the Preparing Global Leaders Summit held in Moscow this year at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences (MSSES). Moscow State Institute of International Affairs (MGIMO) students from not only Russia but all over the globe recently received 2 days of lectures, 6 hours total, which combined social media, lecture, interactive questioning, and an open application of what was learned.

By utilizing various short videos the first day witnessed a satirical, albeit honest truth about the underlying powerful drive in politicians that often broaches clinical narcissism, something their consultants should always seek to counterbalance. Insisting that integrity and competence are the chief attributes a politician should exhibit it is important to communicate effectively and to avoid potentially devastating gaffes. However it was insisted that there is no absolute solution to avoid gaffes, therefore you must be prepared mentally to react appropriately both in the moment and over the course of events. If you are lucky enough to avoid gaffes, Prof Potolocchio pointed out the two most important meetings are the first meeting and the most recent meeting. As such he set out to examine statistical evidence about the psychology of how we choose our elected officials and argued the often it matters less about what is said than how it is said. Specifically noting to practice a few basic public speaking recommendations related to eye contact and body language. But not discounting entirely the vocal substance, he laid out 6 techniques of how to communicate and guidelines on when to use them. First and foremost he exemplified his theory on an expanded definition of Aristotelian Deliberative Rhetoric, the classical use of specific data to build momentum and ultimately convince your audience. Sam asserts an expanded definition that includes the necessity to selectively admit not only your own weaknesses but also your opponent’s strengths that can potentially mitigate opposition criticism in the final attempt to convert dissenters rather than reaffirm supporters. In this manner, he makes the example that the strongest religious supporters are often those who converted from another religion. To help express the other already accepted forms of communication, he sought out examples from prominent American politicians, amongst others: Cory Booker, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, George W Bush, and Lloyd Bentson.

After a recap, during the second day he effectively laid out the realities of reactionary criticism and how to mitigate these risks as well as counteract them, or in some cases distract from them. Expressing the need to accept your criticism and seek out historic examples that undercut the negative connotation and essentially «own your labels." It was through this that Sam expressed the gradually flattening nature of the political structure over the course of history, in that people are viewing their leaders personally and increasingly questioning what makes the politician more benevolent than the citizen. With that being said, Sam was clear in exemplifying that not all political arenas are the same and that what is acceptable in a democracy is not always advisable in an authoritarian regime and the key is to know your environment and when to apply what principle. Finally students had been tasked to present political videos for group analysis and criticism that revealed interesting insight into the likes of many political leaders including Russian political activist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. As a final piece of advice, he advised to avoid becoming a technocrat whose competency is narrow and that the best political leaders are ones who can make a conversation about any topic. In order to achieve this, he recommends finding the unique expertise or cultural understanding in everyone you meet and learn from through others via conversation, not criticism. On a personal level, he challenged us to read 3 books every week: a novel, a biography, and a non-fiction not related to your field. Specifically recommending Daniel Kahneman’s «Thinking Fast and Slow», John Bronson’s «The Psycho Test», and Dan Ariely’s «Predictably Irrational.»

Many students exclaimed that it was one of the best guest lectures this semester and even showed future interest in attending his weeklong seminar, whether it’s in Russia or abroad. The students were eager to interact with Prof Potolocchio, certainly enjoying his topics and congratulating him after a much-deserved ovation.


By Joe Parson, MA student, «Politics and Economics in Eurasia»

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