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Author Lee Hartley Carter: “There is a way to communicate across party lines, it starts with empathy”

…that as divided as we are, as hard as it seems right now, despite all of that there is a way to change hearts and minds. There is a way to communicate across party lines. And that starts with empathy. That is understanding why others believe what they believe, feel what they feel, and do […]


…that as divided as we are, as hard as it seems right now, despite all of that there is a way to change hearts and minds. There is a way to communicate across party lines. And that starts with empathy. That is understanding why others believe what they believe, feel what they feel, and do what they do.

I had the pleasure of interviewing author Lee Hartley Carter. Lee is president of maslansky + partners, a language strategy firm based on the single idea that “it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.” Carter oversees a diverse range of communication and language strategy work for Fortune 100 and 500 companies, trade associations, and nonprofits in the United States and globally. As a television news personality and researcher, she doesn’t rely on traditional polling for her unique insights into U.S. politics; rather, she analyzes voters’ emotional responses to help understand and empathize with them on a more visceral level. The reaction matters, but the “why” behind it matters more. It was this approach that allowed her to accurately predict the results of the 2016 presidential election and primaries. Her recent book is called PERSUASION, The secrets to persuading anyone, at work and in life.


Thank you so much for joining us Lee! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I was at a conference in 2005 and heard the founder of my firm speak. I had never heard of a firm that specialized only in messaging and language — but I knew without a doubt that was what I wanted to do for a living. And so, I spent a year trying to convince them to hire me. 11 months later I had my interview and a year almost to the day later, I started working here. Best decision I ever made. And proof that persistence pays off.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I’ve been able to experience a ton of interesting things in my career. The most interesting story though happened on election night 2016. I arrived at Fox News for election night coverage. All exit polls suggested that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next President of the United States. Most people expected it to be an early night. But my research showed me something much different. My research told me that there was a chance that Trump would win Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. And if he won Florida there was a clear path to victory. But I was the outlier. No other pollsters were seeing the same thing. No other pundits agreed. When I went on air and shared my research I got a text message from a mentor that said, “Are you willing to bet your career on this?” I was. Regardless of how that makes you feel. Regardless of whether or not that was the outcome you wanted that night. There’s something fascinating about being at the center of it. And the reasons he won I believe are because he was an expert persuader. And I think right now Elizabeth Warren is on the same path.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The first time I appeared on television I was talking about super bowl ads. We had tested them and were going to highlight the best and the worst ads. The funniest and cutest. I was so nervous! I had never been on TV before! And so I said some stupid things as you do when your nervous. I remember saying, “even the animals were fun this year…” and the words were still hanging in the air when I thought, when aren’t the animals fun? A major biff. But I kept going! That’s the thing though with live TV — and with client presentations — and meetings. You make mistakes. But you keep going.

I have others too. You don’t get through life and career without ridiculous malapropisms, wardrobe mistakes, travel nightmares, food poisoning issues, awkward client interactions, and moments that make you wonder — how did I get here?

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

So many! The cool thing about what we do is that we are in the heart of so many of the stories that re in the headlines and so many of the companies we all know and love. So we are working with a major beverage company helping them tell their sustainability story. And this is a beverage I LOVE! We are working with a travel company help them position their rewards program. And I love travel and points. A huge athletic brand tell their purpose story. And this is a story that could be a game changer. A pharmaceutical company share their innovation story — and they have so many exciting potential cures in the pipeline! And then I’m doing research on the election. And there’s nothing more that gets me more jazzed than understanding who is resonating and why. I was a sociology major in college. And so why we behave the way we do — and why we have gotten so tribal — absolutely fascinates me.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Reading. I loved to read more than anything. To me the love of words and turns of phrases has helped me more than anything. And outside of that I’m scrappy. I will find a way to get things done even if I’ve never done it before. And so, it’s that scrappiness that lead me to persevere even when it was hard. Running a company, being a wife and step mom, having a baby, and writing a book all in the same year is A LOT. And you can’t do it alone.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

I thought it was going to be the election story. But I have heard that the most interesting stories are my personal story both about how I changed careers and how I survived and thrived through a very, very tough 360 review. I think we are inspired by folks who go through challenges and are real about it. And so how I took that super tough feedback and turned it around — turning my weaknesses in to strengths — is an important story to share.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

That as divided as we are. As hard as it seems right now. That despite all of that there is a way to change hearts and minds. There is a way to communicate across party lines. And that starts with empathy. That is understanding why others believe what they believe, feel what they feel, and do what they do.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

Writers block. And not being sure I had anything interesting to say. I overcame it with the help of my writing coach and agent first — and then my publisher. When you surround yourself with people who believe in you it changes the game.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

Brene Brown. Outside of her being amazing she takes super complicated ideas and makes them easy and applicable. I try to do that.

Eric Segal who wrote love story. As cheesy as that is. He was able to convey more feeling with fewer words than any other author I can think of.

How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

I hope it helps people in a meaningful way have better and more productive conversations. I hope it helps my clients who have a good story to tell, tell a better story.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?

Just start somewhere. It’s so overwhelming. It’s easy to talk yourself out of it for a host of reasons. Don’t.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1.Have your North Star. Know what you’re writing this book for. It will keep you going when the going gets tough.

2. Organize your thoughts first. Creating the structure that works will make sure that everything else flows from there.

3. Just get your ideas on paper. That’s the hardest part.

If you can’t get your ideas on paper, have a conversation with someone about the topic and record it. Then transcribe it. The transcription will be a perfect place to start.

4. Get a support group. It’s a lonely road if you don’t have others to walk beside on this journey. I never would have gotten this down without my writing coach and a few key colleagues who helped me along the way.

5. Have deadlines along the way. I respond to deadlines. Otherwise I procrastinate. So make a schedule and do your best to stick to it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Empathy. Let’s stop judging and politicizing everything and everyone and start understanding instead. You’ll find MOST people are good people and worth the investment of your time and understanding

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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