It is always dangerous to use political material as a training tool, but this recent Presidential speech offers such great examples of how Reversal Theory can be strategically used in communication that I did not want the opportunity to pass. Watch the video, and then read the Reversal Theory perspective below.
Yes We Can…. Grab a Mop
This speech is a terrific example of a leader drawing upon the Playful state, supported by the Mastery and Conforming states, to motivate action. The tone of the speech is light, with laughter and “gee whiz” charm (note in particular the reference to the “socialist mop;” it is a teasing reference designed to dismiss a primary rhetorical tool used by the President’s policy opponents). The metaphor of cleaning up the economic “messes” of today with a mop (easy to grasp imagery) reframes the enormity of today’s issues into something more manageable. Grabbing a mop reorients us to what we can do in this moment (the Playful state), rather than focusing on the potential scariness of the goals we face (the Serious state).
This rescaling of a global economic recession into a mess for a mop also makes the problems we face solvable; all we need is your hard work. This is a great way to invoke the Mastery state, which focuses on feeling strong, powerful, and in control. The simplicity of the mop metaphor reorients us to now (Playful state), and then helps draw us in for problem-solving; we suddenly feel like we can play a role, and that those who aren’t chipping in are part of the problem. Both the Self and Other states are played here as well: we want YOU to feel empowered to pick up a mop to help both yourselves and others.
The Conforming undercurrents are strong here: “we” is a common pronoun, stressing that we are all in this together. The message is clear: If you are not with us, you are against us; you are not helping with the clean-up. The “Grab a Mop” audience chant is also a subtle echo of the “Yes We Can” refrain that carried throughout Obama’s campaign; it sparks a desire for action to achieve the collective change we wish to see.
Skeptics will quickly note that while the mop may be a nice imagery, it doesn’t actually tell us the specific action to take. It is in fact not a practical message, but a message designed to counter and undermine naysayers. Indeed, there is a hint of Rebelliousness underlying the message: pushing against the naysayers, neutralizing the objections by pulling them into the clean-up crew. This is also where the Serious state shows itself in the speech; grounding the message in the Playful state softens the Serious message of “get on board, or…”, but the implication is there. “Feel a little shame; help out a little bit.” Sharp words, delivered with a smile.