Conservative NYT columnist David Brooks has nice analysis about Obama’s debate style:
When Bob Schieffer asked him tough questions during the debate Wednesday night, he would step back and describe the broader situation. When John McCain would hit him with some critique — even about fetuses being left to die on a table — he would smile in amusement at the political game they were playing. At every challenging moment, his instinct was to self-remove and establish an observer’s perspective.
Given all Obama has faced from Clinton and McCain, defensiveness could have poisoned his presidential chances. In response to McCain’s attacking debate style, Obama could have produced anger or indignace, simultaeniously lowering his stature and obscuring his core messages. Instead, detatchment, serenity, and presidential stature.
In business, defensiveness can be similarly toxic. In a recent internal meeting, I was presenting analysis on the size of the restaurant industry. My boss wasn’t convinced. “The numbers look low,” he said. But I had reasons for my numbers. I had analysis. I countered: “it surprises me that you think they are low.”
I responded defensively. All of a sudden, the focus of the conversation shifted from constructively understanding opportunities in the industry to defending my numbers as bulletproof.
There are several correct responses to my boss’s comment. “Why” would have sufficed. If I had stepped back from the situation and suppressed the defensive instinct, I could have steered the conversation in a productive direction.
The bottom line: if Obama can detatch – to his advantage – from the mudslinging and personal attacks, we can rise above the much milder criticism we face on a daily basis. Passion can be useful to inspire, but keeping cool is the right response in 99% of situations.