Down and Dirty Harry: Three lessons that will help you tell the hard truths

"Tell me about that 120-lb. woman one more time. Go ahead. Make my day." I used to defend drinking and driving for a living.

I know what you’re thinking. Did he really just say that he defended drinking and driving for a living? Well, to tell you the truth, in all the excitement I used to ask that question a lot myself. But seeing that the drunk-driving arrest limit is .08 BAC and that a 120-lb. woman can drink two glasses of wine over a two-hour period without exceeding that limit, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: have you ever had a drink before driving? Well, have you … punk?

I rarely went full-Clint Eastwood when defending the legality of drinking a beer at a ballgame. But I did bring up the 120-lb. woman … ad nauseum. Because it is indeed a US DOT-certified fact that this proverbial 120-lb. woman could drink two six-ounce glasses of wine over a two-hour period and still not exceed the drunk driving arrest threshold. But it is also a fact that a 170-lb. man could drink more than four beers before he blew his way into a jail cell. And “more than four beers” sounds a lot worse than “a couple of glasses of wine.”

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, “Why did he bring this up now? We were just starting to get along, and now ... this.” Four reasons. Well, one reason and three lessons.

The reason: I want to show you how to deal with controversial issues so you can become a better communicator.

The lessons:

When conveying controversial, data-heavy information, wrap it in a vignette that people can relate to. People can see a 120-lb. woman having two glasses of wine at a restaurant, and the image doesn’t comport with their reflexive notion of a drunk driver. Mental dissonance like this often forces people to open the hood and have a quick look at their preconceived notions. Once they do, you’ve got yourself a conversation.

Tell and retell that vignette. You cannot overshare good information. But you have to try.

Passionately defend what you believe in. Or change jobs. For every organization with a quest, there is another organization opposed to it. And unless you’re shilling for deviants like NAMBLA (look it up), you have an obligation to develop compelling stories and convey them in the most creative ways you can to try to achieve your organization’s goals. If you’re just not that into it, find another job … like I did.