Book: Thank You for Arguing

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(c) 2009 Mark Robinson – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion
Jay Heinrichs 2007 1st ed. ISBN: 978-0-307-34144-0
New York: Three Rivers Press

Personal response

I really like this book. Jay Heinrichs writes in a clear, accessible style that shows the relevance of rhetoric in life and gives great tips on how to get started. Through anecdotes, he also shows that rhetoric doesn’t have to be dodgy, and can contribute to a richer work and personal life.

W- and I are both studying this book, and it has given us a helpful framework for deeper discussions. I plan to use the tools in the book to analyze arguments, and to apply them when blogging too. (Hmm, might be interesting to use the classical structure for posts in response to other blog posts…)

Well worth a read.

Contents

  • Introduction

    1. Open your eyes: The invisible argument: We treat rhetoric and argument as negatives, but we’re immersed in it. Learning about argument can help us not only recognize when we’re being persuaded, but use it to improve everyday life.

  • Offense

    2. Set your goals: Cicero’s lightbulb: Fights and arguments are two different things. You’re in a fight to win; you’re in an argument to get what you want or to come to an agreement. When you argue, you want to change people’s mood, mind, and/or willingness to act. p17: story about “argument by the stick”

    3. Control the tense: Orphan Annie’s law: When people argue, they can be focused on the past (blame), the present (values), or the future (choices). Pick the appropriate tense for your argument. Future tense helps you keep moving forward. The author writes:

    • Present-tense (demonstrative) rhetoric tends to finish with people bonding or separating.
    • Past-tense (forensic) rhetoric threatens punishment.
    • Future-tense (deliberative) argument promises a payoff.

    The author also reminds us: “Never debate the undebatable. Instead, focus on your goals.”

    4. Soften them up: Character, logic, emotion: Or ethos, logos, and pathos, if you want to use their classic names. Read this chapter for great arguments by the author’s children.

    5. Get them to like you: Eminem’s rules of decorum: Ethos: Work with your audience’s expectations. Make it easier for them to believe you and identify with you. Fit in.

    6. Make them listen: The Lincoln gambit: Help the audience see your common values and practical wisdom. Show them that you’re focused on their best interests, not just yours. If necessary, you may need to mimic other people’s values in order to get them to hear you. Take advantage of opportunities to build perception of your character, such as changing your position based on people’s arguments.

    7. Show leadership: The Belushi paradigm: “Show off your experience. Bend the rules. Appear to take the middle course.”

    8. Win their trust: Quintilian’s useful doubt: Be doubtful or reluctant, talk about your sacrifice, or dial down your rhetoric skills if that serves your cause.

    9. Control the mood: The Aquinas maneuver: Use stories, volume control, plain language, and emotional influencers to change the mood.

    10. Turn the volume down: The scientist’s lie: Manage anger by using passive voice when referring to things other people had done (not you). Calm people by reacting more than they would, on their behalf. Humor might be a good tool, too, but it’s tricky.

    11. Gain the high ground: Aristotle’s favorite topic: Take advantage of common beliefs, values, or sayings as a foundation for your argument. Make your argument seem obvious. If people use common sayings to reject your argument, listen for that and come up with something relevant next time.

    12. Persuade on your terms: What “is” is: Pay attention to labels. Redefine words if needed, using a clear definition. Use the values of your audience. Switch tenses to focus on future choices, too.

    13. Control the argument: Homer Simpson’s canons of logic: This chapter covers deductive and inductive logic, and how to support inductive logic with facts, comparisons, or stories.

  • Defense

    14. Spot fallacies: The seven deadly logical sins: This chapter lists logical fallacies and how to deal with them.

    15. Call a foul: Nixon’s trick: Identify fouls and deal with them, because if the conversation goes into inarguable territory, you’ll just be going around and round.

    16. Know whom to trust: Persuasion detectors: Are people being extreme? Are people focusing on needs that don’t include yours? Watch out when negotiating.

    17. Find the sweet spot: More persuasion detectors: Do people try to give you a solution without hearing the details of your problem? Do people have relevant, accurate, unbiased information? Can people figure out what matters?

  • Advanced offense

    18. Speak your audience’s language: The rhetorical ape: Listen for the jargon and the keywords of a group, and repeat them. Try using antonyms when refuting other people’s arguments, if the original words will cause negative responses. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the logic of a sentence.

    19. Make them identify with your choice: The mother-in-law ruse: Let people come up with your idea by identifying with them and letting them identify with you. Use in-words and irony if needed to help a certain group identify with you more (possibly with the exclusion of another group).

    20. Get instant cleverness: Monty Python’s treasury of wit: This chapter covers figures of speech, subverted cliches, and other techniques for being wittier.

    21. Seize the occasion: Stalin’s timing secret: Pay attention to timing, and watch for persuadable moments.

    22. Use the right medium: The Jumbotron blunder: Different media emphasize different combinations of ethos, pathos, and logos. According to the author:

    • Sight is mostly pathos and ethos.
    • Sound is the most logical sense.
    • Smell, taste, and touch are almost purely emotional.
  • Advanced agreement

    23. Give a persuasive talk: The oldest invention: Invention, arrangement (ethos, then logos, then pathos), style, memory, and delivery. Classical structure: Introduction (ethos), narration, division, proof, refutation, conclusion.

    24. Use the right tools: The Brad Pitt factor: Goals, ethos, pathos, logos, kairos (timing). This chapter has examples of how tools from different chapters work together in real-life situations.

    25: Run an agreeable country: Rhetoric’s revival: We need more rhetoric in real life. Yay!

Reading list

  • A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, Richard A. Lanham
  • Encyclopedia of Rhetoric (Oxford University Press, 2001)
  • Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, P. J. Corbett (Oxford University Press, 1990)
  • The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle (Penguin, 1991)
  • Cicero, Anthony Everitt (Random House, 2001)
  • The Founders and the Classics, Carl J. Richard (Harvard, 1994)
  • A Rhetoric of Motives, Kenneth Burke (University of California, 1950)

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3 responses to “Book: Thank You for Arguing”

  1. Doug says:

    Sorry, hit the return key by accident.

    Last items was: Intelligent
    people also make the best liars due to their quick mental processing.

    Thoughts?

  2. Sacha Chua says:

    I might be missing the first part of your comment, then. =)

    As for liars: I haven’t spent a lot of time considering who would make the best liars, probably because I haven’t needed to. I should point out, though, that you could be talking to the smartest people in the world, but if you think they’re untrustworthy (say, stereotypical used car salesmen trying to convince you that that car really only has 30k on the odometer), they’d make terrible liars. ;) I think the people you trust the most would make the best liars, although I hope they don’t choose to be.

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