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How To Win An Argument

August 2017Words by Mr Alfred Tong

Illustration by Mr Vincent Mahé

“Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got/ I’m still, I'm still Jenny from the block.” Ms Jennifer Lopez’s lyrics might not seem as though they owe much to the wisdom of ancient Greece, but Aristotle would have recognised them as part of an ethos appeal. Fearing mainstream success was compromising her street credibility and to appeal to her core fan base, J-Lo used that line to remind us that she was still authentic and relatable, which is the essence of ethos, one of the key ideas in rhetoric.

You see, rhetoric, the 3,000-year-old art of persuasion, is everywhere. Whether it’s R&B singers and rappers proving how “real” they are, or a tricky question in a job interview, everything in life is a question of strategy, and the deft use of rhetoric is the secret sauce behind the success of every persuasive appeal. It is the difference between war and peace, victory and defeat, or whether your opening line on Tinder leads to a date and a lifetime of companionship, or is simply ignored. (A certain winning persuasiveness can also come in handy once you do get that boyfriend or girlfriend.) It is the emailed pitch that resulted in the commission of the article you’re reading. It is, in life, the difference between “yes” and “no” in situations big and small, and remains as relevant to technology workers in the ideas economy as it was to men in togas in ancient Greece.

Thankfully, Mr Jay Heinrichs, who uses rhetoric to advise organisations ranging from Walmart to Nasa, is here with his book, Thank You For Arguing, to explain how rhetoric can help you win more in life, and generally have a more harmonious relationship with people around you. We are all practising rhetoric whether we know it or not, so why not do it more deliberately and skilfully? Below, with the help of Mr Heinrichs, we offer up some advice on one of rhetoric’s key lessons: how to win an argument.