Turn Arguments Into Choices
So we're now in a realm that allows me to move on a little bit, because this is kind of a segue. Getting agreement, how do you get people, actually, to agree with you? This is a little bit harder here, and you can see the tools are getting a little bit more complex here. We're gonna talk about how to turn arguments into choices next. But we're gonna start with an easy example. Actually, it's a really hard example. What am I saying? This is my son George when he was little. You see what kind of parenting I was into. (laughs) I was not necessarily a good example for the kid. So he grew up, and when he's 15, he became kind of a wiseacre. So I have to tell you a story that illustrates what we're gonna get into here in terms of getting agreement because I think it goes to the very heart of persuasion when it works really well. When he was 15, about that age, you can see he's that kind of kid. I find myself alone in the bathroom, our only bathroom, trying to brush my teeth, and the toothpast...
e tube had been squeezed dry and not replaced. So, being the father of a 15-year-old son, I knew who the likely culprit was, so I shout through the closed door, "George, you used up all the toothpaste." And I hear this sarcastic voice on the other side saying, "That's not the point, is it, Dad? "The point is how are we going to "keep this from happening again." (audience laughs) So, now, he had grown up for years hearing me lecture at the dinner table about rhetoric, and he never revealed that he was paying attention. You know, he's a teenager, so he always pretended like he was just thoroughly bored, but actually, he'd been listening because he just proved that by doing one of the most important things. We're gonna get to this. He pivoted to the future, right? So, if you think about this, I was talking in the past tense. "Who used up all the toothpaste?" And then he pivoted. He reframed the issue and entered framing two and said, "How are we gonna solve this problem, "this toothpaste problem? "How are we gonna keep it from happening again?" So I was just so excited that he learned these rhetorical principles enough to apply them that I said, "Okay, George, you win. "Now, will you please get me some toothpaste?" He says, "Sure, Dad." He runs down into our freezing basement, we live in New Hampshire, and gets a tube, and he comes back and brings me the toothpaste. So who won that argument? He, to this day, says he won because I said he did, but, on the other hand, I got a teenager to run an errand and be happy about it. So that's the ideal argument, isn't it? We both won. There was manipulation involved. He got me in a cognitive ease by making me a laugh a little bit because I love the sarcasm. But at the same time, we both came out of it with what we wanted. He wanted to score points against his dad, fine with me. I get toothpaste. Okay? If every argument worked that way, the world be a better place. Unfortunately, it doesn't always, and it certainly doesn't with me and my son, who's now 30 years old, and we still bicker like an old married couple. That being said, I still consider that a great triumph. So, what happened? What were we doing here? We're talking about, essentially, three kinds of Aristotelian rhetoric here over toothpaste having to do with the past, the present, and the future. And these are three kinds of persuasion, three kinds of rhetoric, but they have to do with tenses, past, present, and future. The past tense has to do with blame. Who used up all the toothpaste? Who committed this crime? Whodunit? That's called, according to Aristotle, forensic rhetoric because it has to do with forensics, right? Crime and punishment. Then there is a second tense, and we can get into questions, Kenna, a little bit later. Let's go through the tenses first.
Okay. Present tense has to do with values. What's good, what's bad, who's good, and who's bad? Now imagine if I had said instead of "Who used up all the toothpaste?" I started lecturing George through the closed while I'm wearing not but a towel, not looking very authoritative, saying, "George, a good son wouldn't use up all the toothpaste." How do you think he would have responded? Pretty defensively, right? You think about politics today where these political arguments are happening, they're in the past tense. Who did these awful things in the past? Or in the present tense. It's all about values, what's good and what's bad and who's in the tribe and who's out. We can tell who's the good people but what they do and what they believe in. That's what I call tribal rhetoric because it has to do with a tribe, right? If I say that my son, because he didn't bring me toothpaste, was a bad son, he's not gonna respond well, and people don't in that kind of exchange. What he did was he pivoted to the future. The future has to do with choices, which is what Corinne did when I dropped my ice cream when I was a five-year-old girl a few minutes ago. Pivoting to the future is really important because it leads you into what Aristotle called deliberative rhetoric. That's the rhetoric of deliberation. Now, that has to do with, the topic of that is what he called the advantageous. I told you we were gonna get a little bit more complicated here, but it's easier than it sounds. The advantageous has to do with what's the audience's advantage, not to what your advantage is. So here's what we're gonna do, and you're gonna be happy about it, and I promise you you'll be happy about it. You dropped your ice cream. There are awesome other flavors. You're gonna love it, right? That's to your advantage. It's not like, "If I give you ice cream, "I get to hear you not cry anymore." That's not gonna be very convincing to a five-year-old girl or an adult for that matter, right? Okay, so that's deliberative rhetoric. It has to do with fixing the problem. How are we going to keep this from happening again? Okay? Those are the three. So, when in doubt, we're gonna get this as a no-brainer at the end. It's a no-brainer. When in doubt, pivot to the future. Say, "Okay, I did it. "I'm the criminal." Or, "Look, whether or not I did it, "let's talk about how we're gonna fix this problem." And you think about all the times in the workplace things have gone wrong. If the first thing you think is, "What tense am I in?" you're gonna fix a lot. Here's the interesting thing, is a lot of research has shown that when you do pivot toward the future, when a conversation pivots to the future tense, the anger dissipates. People are not as angry to thinking about the future. Why is that? Well, if the future is presented as a threat, that might be a little bit different. People go into system two, they'll start thinking, and they'll be less persuadable. But most of the time the future is a nice blank slate where you can describe something really brilliant. If you're the one describing the future, you can describe something positive about problems being fixed. Okay, now here's what we want. We're gonna fix this problem. We're all gonna have toothpaste. Now, how are we gonna do that? That's where the choices come in. There are some pathways we can take for ultimate future happiness. Okay?
I do have a question, we'll start with that.
So the question is, well, here another question just came in about pivoting. "How can you pivot when the other person "just wants to make you wrong no matter what you say?" And so, actually, Tammy had asked a question earlier that was about, she's got a couple people in her life, whether it's a coworker or relative, who no matter they just wanna tell her she's wrong. How do you pivot? How do you handle those people?
I love it. So we talked about the art of occasion. In Greek, it's kairos, which has to do with timing and opportunity, whether or not that moment is ripe for persuasion. And this is one occasion, one way to tell whether the occasion is ripe is to ask yourself, "Who is the audience? "Who is the persuadable audience?" So often in the workplace, if somebody's trying to prove you're wrong all the time, you have to think, "Who is listening? "Who are the bystanders?" One of the biggest mistakes that people make is that they try to start persuading the person who's attacking them. More often than not, the people you're persuading are the listeners, not the person you're actually talking to. If you think about a presidential debate, they're not talking to each other, obviously. They're talking to their own supporters or people who might be persuaded into voting for them. You have to think in terms of that. So if somebody is saying to you always like, "You're just wrong. "You were wrong last time. "You're wrong now. "You will be wrong for eternity "because you're a wrong person," what you can say is "All right, let's look about, "maybe I'm wrong, maybe I am wrong, "but let's look about how we might "make some choices to fix things here." You're the pivoting to the future, and then you turn to your real audience, which is not the person you're talking to. You say, "Look, these people know. "They've seen me in the past. "I'm not always wrong, I think. "I'm wrong more often than I like, I admit it, "but we can talk about how to solve this problem. "If all we're gonna do is to show what a bad person I am, "you need to be talking to HR, not me." And that might get people's sympathy at the very least. Right? So, now, what if it's a loved one? There's some really interesting research done by this psychologist John Gottman at the University of Wisconsin in this place that got nicknamed the Love Lab because over several decades he forced these poor grad students into watching endless videos of couples bickering with one another. How awful would that be (chuckles)? And what he did was he had them sort of slice up these conversations. One of the things was he found was, these guys found, was that couples disagreed and argued with each other at a pretty consistent rate. And, in fact, couples that remain together and those who got divorced argued the same amount of time and with the same frequency. The difference was, and this is something, I went back and talked to this guy. The difference was that the couples who got divorced were focusing the conversation on what bad people they were. All the bad things that happened, all the anger, was simply proof that the other person was a jerk worse than, you know, "You're worse than I am, and you just proved it." That was the topic of the conversation. You think about what tense would that be. Either the past tense or the present tense. The couples who stayed together argued, but they argued about making choices that would affect the future. They pivoted to the future. So one of the things you do, especially in a relationship but in the workplace as well, that future pivot is really gonna work. Imagine who your audience is. I'm glad you brought up that question, Kenna. I think that's really important.
In a situation where you are being attacked on social media, when do you know when to respond and we're going to just ignore it?
As you might imagine, I get attacked a lot just by nature of what I do for a living (laughs). So the other day I was introduced at this meeting where I had to give a presentation. "This man manipulates people around the world. "Give him a big hand." And so you can imagine what my Twitter feed looked like after that. What's great is that, again, think about who your real audience is. Your real audience is not the person who attacked you. You have to think how are you gonna use this. And women often can use this to their advantage because they get attacked in especially evil ways. I never get attacked in the horrible ways you read about. The people just call me an idiot or evil. You know? But what I'll do, then, is to gain sympathy by retweeting it and saying how much I loved it, or else I'll critique their technique. I'll say, "Yeah, this guy only called me this name. "He should've used this name," and I'll come up with a far more horrible name. Like, "Wouldn't that have been better?" Unfortunately, I'd love to give you examples, but they are so obscene (laughs), you know, as they tend to be. I literally can't. So I will actually respond with more obscene names and say, "This might've worked better. "What do you think?" And I will respond directly to the person who did it. "Don't you think you should've used this on me?" And sometimes what people say of what I'm doing as being unethical or manipulative, I'll say, "Actually, you could've accused me of this. "What you're accusing me of isn't nearly as bad "as what I actually do." And what that will do is make people laugh, put them into system one, cognitive ease, and make them feel a little better. Now, with women, they could totally gain sympathy. If you ever get a chance, read anything by Heidi Stevens. Heidi Stevens writes this column called the Balancing Act. It's syndicated. She works with the Chicago Tribune, but you'll find it everywhere. And she's written a book, a collection of her work. And she is attacked. She's a feminist, and she's a working mother, and she gets attacked in just really stupid ways. And what she does is she retweets them, and it just gives her more followers. People love to sympathize with somebody's who's under attack, so try not to take it personally. Think about what your goals are, what you're gonna get out of this. Does that make sense to you, Corinne?
It does, thank you.
So I'm curious, kind of building on that, in this concept of online, there's a lot of being anonymous, anonymity, however you would say that word. So how do you think about persuading someone when you don't know actually who your audience is and they're just these anonymous people out there?
That's tricky, isn't it? So if we're talking about social media in particular, that's gonna be really hard. You're simply gonna be projecting a character out into the ether, wondering what's gonna happen. The writer Don Marquis used to say that publishing a volume of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo. I think Twitter's like that, right? You're just dropping rose petals or whatever you're doing into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo, and all you're getting is numbers and sometimes ridiculous, sometimes irrelevant replies. And that's really hard. I think the important thing here is to keep the conversation going. Like, elicit responses all the time. Right? And the anonymity (laughs), you got me going. So it disappears after awhile because people will get personal. And one of the things that research has found, and you hear these examples a lot, some of the worst trolls are really hurting people, and you can say, "Look, you're obviously feeling a lot of pain," and you may get awful responses from that. But the point is not necessarily to cure every individual out there. If they've done something, say bad things, but the fact that you look sympathetic is gonna win you sympathy from your audience. Again, who's the real audience? One of the things I find is that with a lot of social media, and I love Louise and the rest of you who do social media, love to hear your responses to this. A lot of times social media is the beginning of things. It's not the end of a conversation. Ultimately, you're gonna be reaching an audience of maybe 200,000. That's a big audience, obviously, in social media, but you're gonna wanna make everybody feel as if you're addressing them personally. What does that mean? It meas addressing them personally, one-on-one, and you can ask, "Who are you?" I do this all the time, and often what I'll do is, and I know it's risky, but I'll give my email address and say, "Let's take this offline. "Let's have a conversation." And it's amazing what conversations I've had with trolls who turn out to be really thoughtful people who just didn't express themselves very well. I know I'm being a little pollyannaish, aren't I, in that. No?
No, it's cool.
It is cool. And then I find that, I've actually met people personally who attack me online, and it's been wonderful. One of the things that I find, and this is really hard for them, and maybe it's not for everybody. I love argument, and so I like being attacked. And the more personal it is, the more horrible it is, it's easy for me to say, I'm a 62-year-old white man, but I find it wins sympathy from other people when I am attacked. If I then turn it into a really meaningful exchange individually, that's where social media truly becomes social. It goes from socia to personal, so Twitter is the beginning of something. Facebook, Instagram, it's the beginning of something. If you think your whole campaign is gonna be just social media and you're gonna stop there, you're not gonna get that consumer journey to the very top where they turn into a champion for what you do or the products you wanna sell.
That's really interesting. And I guess you kind of answered it about, with trolls or whatever or whoever it is, how do you know when to engage versus when to just let it go? It sounds like your practice is to engage.
Are there times when you just let it go?
Yeah, that's me, so (laughs), because I love the engagement. But sometimes you can let it go, right? But you have to ask yourself, and this is true of every form of rhetoric, what really is your goal? And a lot of times, if you're talking about business partnerships, it's the relationship. It's not whether you won that argument or got what you wanted out of it. What you want is a relationship at your, you wanna hold onto a client, for example, and sometimes being wrong is a way to do that. Getting the toothpaste. Now, on the other hand, sometimes being quiet, not saying something, is a great way to persuade people, and we're gonna get to that a little bit later. We haven't lost this way of timing, by the way. I'm gonna keep coming back to it. This whole fortune is bald behind thing, sometimes being bald behind is just a wonderful look.