Control the Tense: Orphan Annie’s Law
We expect our arguments to accomplish something. You want a debate to settle an issue, with everyone walking away in agreement—with you. This is hard to achieve if no one can get beyond who is right or wrong, good or bad. Why do so many arguments end up in accusation and name-calling?
The answer may seem silly, but it’s crucial: most arguments take place in the wrong tense. Choose the right tense. If you want your audience to make a choice, focus on the future. Tenses are so important that Aristotle assigned a whole branch of rhetoric to each one.
Control the issue. Do you want to fix blame? Define who meets or abuses your common values? Or get your audience to make a choice? The most productive arguments use choice as their central issue. Don’t let a debate swerve heedlessly into values or guilt. Keep it focused on choices that solve a problem to your audience’s (and your) advantage.
- Control the clock. Keep your argument in the right tense. In a debate over choices, make sure it turns to the future.
Soften Them Up: Character, Logic, Emotion
“Thus use your frog,” Izaak Walton says in The Compleat Angler. “Put your hook through his mouth, and out at his gills…and in so doing use him as though you loved him.” That pretty much sums up
which teaches you to use your audience as though you loved it. All of these tools require understanding your opponent and sympathizing with your audience.
- Logos. Argument by logic. The first logical tactic we covered was concession, using the opponent’s argument to your own advantage.
- Pathos. Argument by emotion. The most important pathetic tactic is sympathy, registering concern for your audience’s emotions and then changing the mood to suit your argument.
- Ethos. Argument by character. Aristotle called this the most important appeal of all—even more than logos.
Logic, emotion, and character are the megatools of rhetoric. You’re about to learn specific ways to wield each one. Read on
Get Them to Like You: Eminem’s Rules of Decorum
We now get to the meat of ethos—the tools that turn you into a credible leader.
- Decorum. Argument by character starts with your audience’s love. You earn it through decorum, which Cicero listed first among the ethical tactics.
Make Them Listen: The Lincoln Gambit
Julius Caesar’s ethos was so great, Shakespeare said, that he could say something normally offensive, and “his countenance, like richest alchemy,” would change his rhetoric “to virtue and to worthiness.” The tools
are an alchemist’s tools; use them to change your basest words into gold.
- Virtue. Rhetorical virtue is the appearance of virtue. It can spring from a truly noble person or be faked by the skillful rhetorician. Rhetoric is an agnostic art; it requires more adaptation than righteousness. You adapt to the values of your audience.
- Values. The word “values” takes on a different meaning in rhetoric as well. Rhetorical values do not necessarily represent “rightness” or “truth”; they merely constitute what people value—honor, faith, steadfastness, money, toys. Support your audience’s values, and you earn the temporary trustworthiness that rhetoric calls virtue.
Among the ways to pump up your rhetorical virtue, we covered four:
- Get a witness to brag for you.
- Reveal a tactical flaw.
- Switch sides when the powers that be do. A variation is the Eddie Haskell ploy, which throws your support behind the inevitable. When you know you will lose, preempt your opponent by taking his side.
Use Your Craft: The Belushi Paradigm
appearance of wisdom to persuade. The crafty rhetorician seems to have the right combination of book learning and practical experience, both knowledge and know-how.
Techniques for enhancing your practical wisdom:
- Show off your experience.
- Bend the rules.
- Appear to take the middle course.
Show You Care: Quintilian’s Useful Doubt
Caring, or “disinterest,” is the appearance of having only the best interest of your audience at heart—even to the point of sacrificing for the good of the others. Its tools:
- The reluctant conclusion. Act as if you reached your conclusion only because of its overwhelming rightness.
- The personal sacrifice. Claim that the choice will help your audience more than it will help you; even better, maintain that you’ll actually suffer from the decision.
- Dubitatio. Show doubt in your own rhetorical skill. The plainspoken, seemingly ingenuous speaker is the trickiest of them all, being the most believable.
- Authenticity. Make your audience think you’re for real, just being your genuine lovable self.
Control the Mood: The Aquinas Maneuver
Rhetorical tradition has it that when Cicero spoke, people said, “What a great speech.” When the fiery Athenian orator Demosthenes spoke, people said, “Let’s march!” The Greek spoke more pathetically than the Roman; emotion makes the difference between agreement and commitment. Use the tools of pathos to rouse your audience to action.
- Belief. To stir an emotion, use what your audience has experienced and what it expects to happen.
- Storytelling. A well-told narrative gives the audience a virtual experience—especially if it calls on their own past experiences, and if you tell it in the first person.
- Volume control. You can often portray an emotion most effectively by underplaying it, in an apparent struggle to contain yourself. Even screaming demagogues like Hitler almost invariably began a speech quietly and then turned up the volume.
- Simple speech. Don’t use fancy language when you get emotional. Ornate speech belongs to ethos and logos; plain speaking is more pathetic.
- Anger often arises from a sense of belittlement. You can direct an audience’s fury at someone by portraying his lack of concern over their problems.
- Patriotism attaches a choice or action to the audience’s sense of group identity. You can stir it by comparing the audience with a successful rival.
- Emulation responds emotionally to a role model. The greater your ethos, the more the audience will imitate you.
- Unannounced emotion lets you sneak up on your audience’s mood. Don’t tip them off in advance. They’ll resist the emotion.
- Nostalgia uses a yearning for the past—especially for those days when the future seemed bright.
- Desire or lust helps get your audience to move from decision to action.
- Persuasion gaps. First, find them. Then fill them with desire.
Turn the Volume Down: The Scientist’s Lie
Passive voice. If you want to direct an audience’s anger away from someone, imply that the action happened on its own. “The chair got broken,” not “Pablo broke the chair.”
- Comfort. Also known as cognitive ease. Keep your audience in an easy, docile, instinct state, and your persuasion goes down more easily. Comfort also helps counter or prevent anger. To achieve comfort, keep things simple, empower your audience, and try to get your audience to smile.
- Humor. Laughter is a wonderful calming device, and it can enhance your ethos if you use it properly. Urbane humor plays off a word or part of speech. Wit is situational humor. Facetious humor is joke telling, a relatively ineffective form of persuasion. Banter, the humor of snappy answers, works best in rhetorical defense. It uses concession to throw the opponent’s argument back at him.
- Emotional refusal. When being bullied or heckled, refuse to show the emotion the bully wants. Gain the audience’s sympathy by trying to look calm and above it all.
- Backfire. You can calm an individual’s emotion in advance by overplaying it yourself. This works especially well when you screw up and want to prevent the wrath of an authority.
Gain the High Ground: Aristotle’s Favorite Topic
Public opinion “is held in reverence,” said Mark Twain. “It settles everything. Some think it is the Voice of God.” The original definition of “audience” had the same pious tone. It meant a hearing before a king or nobleman. The first audience, in other words, was a judge. According to Aristotle, it still is. Your audience judges whether your opinion is the right one.
Only we’re talking deliberative argument, not a court of law. So the statute books don’t determine the outcome; the audience’s own beliefs, values, and naked self-interest do. To persuade them, you offer a prize: the advantageous, which is the promise that your choice will give the judges what they value.
In order to convince them, you have to start with what they believe, value, or desire. You begin, in other words, with the commonplace.
- The advantageous. This is the über-topic of deliberative argument, persuasion that deals with choices and the future. The other forms of rhetoric cover right and wrong, good and bad. Deliberative argument talks about what is best for the audience. That is where persuasion comes in; you make the audience believe your own choice to be the advantageous one.
- The commonplace. Any cliché, belief, or value can serve as your audience’s boiled-down public opinion. This is the starting point of your argument, the ground the audience currently stands on. Logos makes them think that your own opinion is a very small step from their commonplace.
- Babbling. When your audience repeats the same thing over and over, it is probably mouthing a commonplace.
- The commonplace label. Apply a commonplace to an idea, a proposal, or a piece of legislation; anyone who opposes it will risk seeming like an outsider.
- The rejection. Another good commonplace spotter. When your audience turns you down, listen to the language it uses; chances are you will hear a commonplace. Use it when the argument resumes.
Persuade on Your Terms: The Sister Frame
Defining an argument’s terms and issues is like doing the reverse of a psychologist’s word association test. You want to attach favorable words and connotations to people and concepts—a practice politicians call “labeling.” When you define a whole issue, then you’re “framing”—placing the whole argument within the bounds of your own rhetorical turf.
Here are the specific techniques for labeling:
- Term changing. Don’t accept the terms your opponent uses. Insert your own.
- Redefinition. Accept your opponent’s terms while changing their connotation.
- Definition jujitsu. If your opponent’s terms actually favor you, use them to attack.
- Definition judo. Use terms that contrast with your opponent’s, creating a context that makes them look bad.
Here are the framing techniques:
- First, find audience commonplace words that favor you.
- Next, define the issue in the broadest context—one that appeals to the values of the widest audience.
- Then deal with the specific problem or choice, making sure you speak in the future tense.
The definition tools fall under the strategy of stance, the position you take at the beginning of an argument. If the facts don’t work for you, define (or redefine) the issue. If that won’t work, belittle the importance of what’s being debated. If that fails, claim the whole argument is irrelevant. In sum, stance comes down (in descending order) to this:
Control the Argument: Homer Simpson’s Canons of Logic
The historian Colyer Meriwether wrote that the American founders were masters at rhetorical logos: “They knew how to build an argument, to construct a logical fortress; that had been their pastime since youth. They could marshal words, they could explore the past…they had been doing that for years.” You now have the foundation to build your own logical fortress. Actually, it should be more like a logical mansion; the best persuaders are comfortable within their logic, and not afraid to let people in.
- Deduction. Deductive logic applies a general principle to a particular matter. Rhetorical deduction uses a commonplace to reach a conclusion, interpreting the circumstances through a lens of beliefs and values.
- Enthymeme. The logical sandwich that contains deductive logic. “We should [choice], because [commonplace].” Aristotle took formal logic’s syllogism, stripped it down, and based it on a commonplace instead of a universal truth.
- Induction. In rhetoric, induction is argument by example. This kind of logic starts with the specific and moves to the general. Whereas deductive logic interprets the circumstances through an existing belief—a commonplace—inductive logic uses the circumstances to form a belief. It works best when you’re not sure your audience shares a commonplace.
- Fact, comparison, story. These are the three kinds of example to use in inductive logic.