thanks argueThe last few months I’ve been reading a book called “Thank You for Arguing,” which is dedicated to understanding and improving the important art of rhetoric.  Of all skill sets in life, I’d imagine that the capability to utilize rhetoric effectively in personal or group discussions will likely have the largest impact on your career and life as a whole.  Every interaction you have in life is somewhat reliant on these skills.  Most people are inherently utilizing rhetoric, but fail to recognize the art as it happens.

I actually have a minor in rhetorical writing, which has served me fairly well in vocational pursuits, but has failed to take hold well in my other areas of life.  The truth is that rhetoric and persuasion are genuinely difficult in practice.  The main reasons are that interacting with others is not necessarily fun–I’ve found as I get older that more and more people would rather not interact with others if avoidable (though not everyone is like this), and that persuading is becoming more and more difficult; it seems like more and more people shut off any argument that’s counteractive to their initial thought processes.  Yet it is the only way to really get what you want.  Or to do what is right.  And that’s an important distinction, what you want is likely (in your mind) what is right.  You cannot do what you think is right in most instances without the support of others.

Rhetoric is supremely important today.  And this book does well to describe how to use it effectively in speech and debate.  Those two activities are not so formal as they sound; they happen every day at the water cooler, kitchen table, email strings and so forth.  Learning the tools and wielding them effectively is to your benefit.  The following is a brief outline of the concepts in the book:

1.  Set Your Goals

  • Before any actual discourse, consider your preferred outcomes — not necessarily “winning” the argument, but what you want to happen as a result (very different ideas)
  • Set your goal for the audience, in changing mood or thought process or action

2.  Control the Tense

  • Focus on the future and the choices of the audience, what are the implications moving forward?  Looking backward does nothing.
  • Avoid fault and/or blame of any party as it is unlikely to provide good will

3.  Soften Them Up

  • Argument by Character (Ethos):  this relies on reputation of the speaker or other parties – e.g. this person’s reputation is worthy of consideration and potentially consent
  • Argument by Logic (Logos):  relying on the logic of the audience, regardless of the position, this could mean accepting opposing ideas in order to get a certain outcome
  • Argument by Emotion (Pathos):  concern with the audience and their mood given a certain situation

4.  Get Them to Like You

  • Use decorum to fit the audience’s consideration, fit in with the decisions making

5.  Make Them Listen

  • Virtue:  adopt the values of the audience
  • Values:  align with the commonplaces of the audience — commonplaces may be one of the most important ideas in this book, it signifies the areas where the group already agrees, which are the areas where an argument starts.  Things so basic as “we all want to grow the company” or “we all agree treating customers well is part of who we are” are mores within organizations and need to be considered.  Those are obvious starts, the questions come from when you get to alignment of resources or functional expectations.
  • Touting experience, or having others do it for you, will lend itself toward getting consideration

6.  Use Your Craft

  • Show your experience
  • Take the middle course – always weigh both sides of the argument and regardless of which way you choose to go, make certain that you’ve covered off on both sides prior to taking a position

7.  cavemanShow You Care

  • Reluctant conclusion – come to your position while highlighting the potential of the other areas of choice, perhaps reluctantly given the situation being overwhelmingly right given the facts
  • Personal sacrifice – sometimes decisions come at a cost of your personal area but are for the greater good
  • Doubt in rhetorical skill – simple words with verbal consideration “I may only be a caveman, but I know this is right.”

8.  Control the Mood

  • Belief, use the experience
  • Tell stories where applicable
  • Control volume – good point to state that any time an argument escalates, you’ve lost
  • Simple language
  • Patriotism and alignment of the group to argument, potentially posing the opposition as against the goodness of the group
  • Desire and emulation

9.  Turn the Volume Down

  • Use the passive voice and do not assign action/blame where avoidable
  • Get audience comfortable, smiling and laughing if possible
  • Empower audience and the importance of their choice for the future

10.  Gain the High Ground

  • Focus on what’s advantageous for the audience
  • Commonplaces — find where everyone aligns and stem argument from that point of trust
  • Normally when people continue to repeat ideas (babbling) there is a commonplace in that place
  • Get to agreement on the subject to create a commonplace where one previously didn’t exist

11.  Persuade On Your Terms

  • Labeling – use of terminology is important as they can hold connotations, use your terms, choose your opponents terms when it helps but reframe their definitions
  • Future tense problem solving includes focusing on Facts, then Definition, then Quality, then Relevance.  Move down the scale as your argument runs into issues, and then consider other action if needed.

12.  Control the Agument

  • Deductive logic creates agreement through “if/then” argumentation
  • Inductive logic ends commonplaces at the time and creates new paths forward
  • Facts / Comparisons / Stories are all valuable in these discussions

13.  Spot Fallacies

  • False comparisons – unalike ideas that are compared regardless
  • Bad example – example doesn’t fit conclusion of argument
  • Ignorance of proof – when you haven’t seen an example and assume that one does not exist due to that ignorance
  • Circular logic – using the premise to lead to a conclusion that is therein the premise
  • False choice – creating a false dichotomy of decisions where none is actually needed
  • Red herring – creating a non linear distraction to avoid the argument at hand
  • Wrong ending – proof doesn’t match conclusion

14. Call a Foul

  • Switching tenses from future to past – always focus on what’s next
  • Inflexible insistence on rules, when realigning rules may be needed
  • Humility – setting out to embarrass another is poor form and shouldn’t be tolerated
  • Threats / foul language – unhelpful and distraction
  • Utter stupidity – difficult to stop but often times can’t be fought head on

15.  Know Who to Trust

  • Apply a needs test – what are the actors looking to achieve and how does it match their rhetoric?
  • Check extremes – are they measured in consideration or one sided?

16.  Find the Sweet Spot

  • Assess the practical wisdom:  Absolutely one way answers, or “it depends” on the situation, latter means impartiality in most instances
  • Actual experience of actors and outcomes
  • Ability to succinctly describe the crux of the issue

17.  Advanced Offense

  • Twist cliches for memorability
  • Change word order of arguments, clever and sticks with audience
  • Edit out loud, shows nonscripted consideration and commonplace compass
  • Emotion where valuable
  • Invent new words

18.  Speak the Audience Language

  • Simple language where possible, use the lexicon of the group to fit in

19.  Make Them Identify With The Choice

  • See the choice as how the group self identifies for the easiest path to victory, few will disagree with the group identity
  • Summarize argument with a halo of identity
  • Do not apologize, ever, just use argument to position for future e.g. “the previous action didn’t live up to my expectations, and I’m going to improve that moving forward”

20.  Right Timing

  • Wait for the right time to push for change — it can take an extreme amount in different scenarios, be patient

21.  Give a Persuasive Talk

  • Invention:  create the issue through facts and choosing the historic considerations going into decision now
  • Arrangement:  choose how to layer the argument for maximum impact, with expectations of questions or commentary
  • Style:  word choice, clarity, vividness, storytelling, decorum, ornament
  • Memory:  having your argument down pat helps delivery and considers rejoinders and how to handle
  • Delivery:  execute the ideas

As you can tell, there was a lot covered in the book. And although you’re already doing this on the daily, thinking through what works and doesn’t is probably a helpful exercise.  The book is recommended, as are the ideas themselves.