Dr. Anthony Fauci has an urgent message for America’s young people: Wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, made his appeal during Friday’s press briefing of the coronavirus task force. Fauci is a life-long student of communication and used a time-tested tool of persuasion.
It works like this. If you’re trying to convince people to take collective action, don’t make it a story about you. Tell stories about us.
We is a more powerful pronoun than I.
In just seven minutes Fauci used the personal pronoun ‘We’ five times more often than the pronoun, ‘I.’
When it comes to fighting the spread of the coronavirus, it’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about us. “We are in it together,” Fauci said.
Leaders who use the plural form of personal pronouns build common ground with their audience. Here are just a few examples of Fauci’s effort to establish that bond.
“We are facing a serious problem in certain areas.” Although many states are ‘stable,’ and are not seeing a significant rise in cases, Fauci reminded Americans that a problem in some states can spread to others.
“We have a heterogenous country, but that does not mean that we are not intimately interconnected with each other.”
“We can’t get away from it. If we are an interconnected society, we have to look at what our role is in trying to put an end to this. So, what can we do?”
Fauci says that anyone who gets infected—even if they feel well—is part of the ‘dynamic process’ of spreading the virus. Researchers now know that many people who carry the virus are asymptomatic—they don’t show any symptoms and may feel perfectly fine. That makes this virus especially dangerous.
It’s only at this point in Fauci’s appeal that he turns to the singular personal pronoun, I. And once again, he does it strategically to build a common bond with his audience.
“I can understand” [young people’s desire to get together with their friends]. “I was at a stage in my life when I said I’m invulnerable so I’m going to take a risk.”
Fauci then turns the responsibility back to the audience, while he keeps the appeal specific and real.
“If get infected, you will infect someone else…Ultimately, you will infect someone who is vulnerable. And that may be somebody’s grandmother, grandfather, uncle who is on chemotherapy, an aunt who is on radiation, or a child who has leukemia.”
“We are all in it together,” Fauci concludes. The only way we are going to end it is by ending it together.”
In narrative research we’ve learned that effective leaders share several types of stories. There’s a time and place for ‘I’ stories. Stories about yourself and your experiences can inspire, engage, and create a stronger bond with listeners.
We stories, on the other hand, unite us and serve to remind individuals that they have a responsibility to the larger group. “We can be part of the solution or part of the problem,” Fauci says.
Leaders, by definition, rally people to pursue a shared vision. Tell more ‘We’ stories to help people understand what’s at stake and how they can accomplish more as a team united toward a common goal.