In this chapter, Heinrichs will discuss a few situations in order to illustrate how to choose the right rhetorical tools. Learning to choose the right rhetorical tools is a little like learning how to ski—at first, it’s difficult to remember the different lessons and tips all at once. While it takes a long time to master the art of rhetoric, there are a few aspects of rhetoric that one should always keep in mind when hearing or making a persuasive speech. One should consider the goals of the speech, the ethos, pathos, and logos of the speech, and whether the persuader does a good job of harnessing kairos—i.e., speaking with the right timing and using the right medium.
Having laid out the groundwork for good rhetoric, Heinrichs will now show readers how to use their lessons in everyday settings. The examples that Heinrichs uses in this chapter are meant to illustrate one of the book’s most important points: rhetoric can benefit the reader in a variety of respects—there’s a lot more to rhetoric than making a speech before a big crowd, and in fact, most applications of rhetoric are far more casual.
Imagine that your superior at work quits, and you’re trying to make a bid for their old job. First, consider the goal: persuading the boss to give you a job, which will require deliberative rhetoric. Next, ask yourself which Aristotelian appeal you should emphasize in your pitch. Pathos usually doesn’t work well in an office setting, since it’s too intense. Logos could be helpful, but you’re probably best off using an appeal to ethos, emphasizing your disinterest, your strong values, and your practical wisdom.
Heinrichs takes the reader through the planning stage of persuasion: before making one’s actual pitch to the boss, one must first plan the rhetorical structure of the pitch, determining both the proper tense and the content of the pitch. For a pitch about getting promoted, ethos could be the most important rhetorical form, since bosses often promote people whom they admire and respect.
If you’re trying to convince your boss to promote you, you could write a detailed strategy memo, proving your practical wisdom. It would be a good idea to send in the memo quickly, taking advantage of kairos and showing that you’re punctual and responsible. You could also emphasize your decorum by dressing well, and emphasize a common identity between yourself and your boss (often, bosses like employees who remind them of themselves).
Heinrichs gives some important advice for readers who might be trying to get a promotion at work. While none of this advice seems groundbreaking (in fact, most of it just seems like common sense), Heinrichs’s most valuable insight may be the importance of careful planning: even if demonstrating one’s practical wisdom might sound like common sense, it can be helpful to take a moment to plan one’s pitch to the boss, and to be aware of the right rhetorical approach.
Next, imagine that your strategy of emphasizing ethos works, and your boss calls you in for an interview. Here, you should emphasize your practical wisdom, your values (which should align with the company’s values), and your disinterest (your loyalty to the boss and to the company). It would be a good idea to emphasize your talents by telling personal stories about your abilities. Finally, you could close by emphasizing your sincerity and your “heart”—some bosses might find such a pathetic display cheesy, but most will probably appreciate it.
Heinrichs gives other useful pieces of advice for an interview—again, much of this advice is just common sense, and readily available to people who haven’t studied rhetoric. However, being aware of the art of rhetoric could help an interviewee formulate their answers in an especially coherent, pleasing way, and articulate their virtues more clearly and impressively.
Another example: imagine that you’re trying to convince your book club to read a certain book next month—Thank You For Arguing. Instead of arguing forcefully for the book, you could try the “reluctant conclusion” strategy, emphasizing that you, too, had doubts about this book. You could emphasize the author’s practical wisdom—his experience as a consultant for other companies. Finally, you could emphasize the connection between the values the book imparts, such as education and social skills, and the values your book club celebrates. In this way, you’d be making an ethos-heavy pitch for the book.
Heinrichs writes about a character who pitches Heinrichs’ own book to a book club (a pretty sneaky way to encourage readers to tell their friends about Thank You for Arguing, huh?). The pitch exemplifies many of the techniques that Heinrichs has discussed throughout the book, in particular, emphasizing ethos and practical wisdom.
For the next example, imagine that you’re raising money for a chain of bed-and-breakfasts by presenting to a venture capital firm. After your presentation, one of the partners questions the notion of standardizing bed-and-breakfasts. Instead of making a snappy joke or debating the terminology—both of which would lack decorum—you could use code language, such as “mature industry” and “ROI” (return on investment) to show off your familiarity with the venture capital culture.
Although it’s always tempting to give a snappy comeback when somebody asks a rude question, it’s often smarter in the long term to give a measured, moderate-sounding answer that concedes some of the questioner’s points in order to take control over the conversation.
When in doubt, it’s always best to concede an opponent’s points. Doing so buys you some extra time to think of a response, and, even if you can’t think of a clever response, allows you to switch the tense to the future. A clever concession “redefines the issue without appearing to.” For example, while arguing about the legitimacy of the welfare system, a politician could refute an opponent who claims, “welfare mothers are lazy” by conceding the point and saying, “I’m sure there are lazy people on welfare.” In doing so, the politician could switch to a future tense and emphasize the long-term economic benefits of reforming welfare.
As before, Heinrichs shows that it’s possible to win an argument without seeming to have an argument in the first place. Concessions seem to agree with the “opponent,” but actually reframe the discussion in a subtle way that gives one more power or the appearance of a moral high ground.
Consider another politican example: a local candidate who’s been accused of wearing a marijuana-themed t-shirt, suggesting that he used drugs as an adolescent. A few potential responses: 1) deny it, 2) minimize it, (i.e., “I smoked, but I didn’t inhale”), or 3) go on the offensive. Options 2) and 3) risk making the candidate seem like a liar or a slippery politician. By using option 1), on the other hand, the candidate could reframe the debate and switch to the future tense, scolding his opponent for focusing on the past instead of talking about how to improve the community in the future. Any concession that changes the debate from past tense to future tense will often win an audience.
Often, politicians spend lots of time and money trying to figure out the best way to handle a scandal. Heinrichs suggests that, rather than depending so exclusively on polls and test groups, politicians could benefit from the art of rhetoric. The politician in his hypothetical example could save a lot of research poll money by deciding to shift the debate from the present to the future tense, reframing the debate in a productive way.