By April 9, 2009 5 Comments Read More →

Concession is Rhetorical Judo

ConcessionIsRhetoricalJudo

“I don’t mind arguing with myself. It’s when I lose that it bothers me.” – Richard Powers

How do you use your opponent’s argument to your own advantage?  You use concession. 

My dictionary says that concession is "admitting of a point claimed in argument."  You give a little to get a lot. 

One way to think of it is finding a way to agree.   You can then use the agreement as a bridge to make your point.  This works because you are letting your opponent score points.  This also works because people like to be consistent with themselves.  They don’t want to backtrack on what they just agreed to.  Concession also works because you seem flexible rather than dogmatic or rigid in your opinion.  Most importantly, it indicates that you’re listening.  You validate them.

In Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion , Jay Heinrichs writes about using concession as rhetorical judo.

Key Take Aways

  • Concession is the most powerful logical tactic.  When you argue, you can choose tactics from logos, ethos, or pathos (or logic, emotion, and character.)   Concessions is one of the most powerful logical tactics because you’re bridging truths to get to your point.  For more information on logos, ethos, and paths, see Character Trumps Emotion Trumps Logic.
  • Make room for your opponent’s ideas.  Your opponent and audience has some beliefs.  Their beliefs and points may be true.  Give them the space to make these points.  If you fight these points, you create resistance and drive a wedge between any agreement.  Worse, if you don’t concede to any points or make room for other’s ideas, you come across as dogmatic, where it’s less about getting agreement and more about proving you’re right.
  • Stay focused on what you want to accomplish.  Lose the battle to win the war.  Don’t get caught up in trying to win every point.  Focus on the outcome you want.  This will help you choose what to concede as well as how to move towards your goal.

Concession is rhetorical judo because you are using your opponent’s moves to help you support your argument.  Obviously, you want to choose which points to concede to carefully.  Practice is how you learn, and the simplest way to practice is to start finding ways to agree.

Use Your Opponent’s Argument to Your Own Advantage
Let your opponent win some points.  Make room for your opponent’s ideas and the audiences beliefs.  Heinrichs writes:

First, though, let’s master the most powerful logos tool of all, concession.  It seems more Jedi knight than Rambo, involving more self-mastery than brute force, but it lies closer to the power center of logos than rhetoric’s more grandiloquent methods.  Even the most aggressive maneuvers allow room for the opponent’s ideas and the audience’s preconceptions.  To persuade people – to make them desire your choice and commit to the action you want – you need all the assets in the room, and one of the best resources comes straight from your opponent’s mouth.

Example of Concession
Heinrichs writes:

Aristotle said that every point has its flip side.  That’s the trick to concession.  When a spouse says, “We hardly ever go out anymore,” the wise mate does not spew examples of recent dates; he says, “That’s because I want you all to myself.”  This response will at least buy him time to think up a credible change in tense: “But as a matter of fact, I was going to ask if you wanted to go to that new Korean restaurant.”

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Photo by Wern L

5 Comments on "Concession is Rhetorical Judo"

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  1. Ahh, wise master, teach me your ways. :)

    I’ve never tried that technique out on my wife, but now I will. I’ll let you know what happens because I know it’s coming.

  2. J[u]D[o]

    I think I cracked your secret of persuasion – ;)

    @Karl – i tried it with my precious wife and it worked just great. It works great with kids too. ;)

  3. Hi J.D.

    Great post, very useful for all area of our life.
    It is like a mental dance between people, if we are skillful we can usually get what we want while looking pretty doing it.

    Thanks,
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  4. JD says:

    @ Karl

    It’s funny how once you’re aware of it you’ll notice it in lots of everyday conversations. I paid more attention yesterday and noticed concessions left and right all day long. I noticed it was a way to stay out of conflict and optimize around collaboration.

    @ Alik

    It’s all submliminal ;)

    @ Giovanna

    Thank you. I like your mental dance metaphor.

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