The Art Of Persuasion

Two individuals debating the recent increase in banana prices

The Art of Persuasion

It's not uncommon that I'll get compliments on my persuasive, or rhetorical, ability. I see this gift as highly useful, what good is good writing and good logic if you're a poor communicator? What good is good ideas and good intent if you're incapable of expressing it? What good is a debate if you cannot articulate your argument? Of course the answer to all these questions is nothing. They're good for nothing without the art of communication. So, to further all these arts in a bout of humanitarian good will, I will be giving some guidelines on how to be rhetorically successful.

The Essence of Rhetoric

Rhetorical skill boils down to three main points:

These three main points are the bulk of any rhetorical or persuasive speaking. Of course there are details, but a guide like this will give enough cursory knowledge to be able to learn the details on your own.

What is Articulation?

Articulation is the art of mixing wit and precision. Being able to, on the fly, mix and meld subjects, actions, values, and other subjects of conversation in unique ways is the art of wit. Being able to be precise is the art of having a utility-driven lexicon to pull from and the ability to structure statements in a form of syntax that is understandable for your audience. As articulation is made of two things mixed, we'll discuss how to create both and how to mix them.

Witnessing your own Wit

Wit is the spur of the moment rebuttals and logical statements that further a conversation. To be able to be to be witty is to be able to blend what you know already with what is being said. Having a good awareness of reality and ideas discussed in the past is a way to obtain knowledge to execute wit. Wit should focus on the form of knowledge you learn; The pure logical structures of certain statements must be the focus of your knowledge. If fact A is true, and fact B is true, you must be quick to derive that C is true as well and that C counters your opponent's point D. To understand the web of interaction between ideas, concepts, and other structures is important. If you are in a field of some form, let's say you're a programmer like me, think programmatically and abstract that to the world. Make computing allegories, use terminology from computing (of course define it), and learn niche interactions. While this may be strange to an Artist or a Sound Designer, it can swiftly be applied when you study the forms and ways you participate in your craft. Make allegories between what you do in how you perceive and believe the world; if you are a computer nerd, treat brains like self-aware computers and assign the traits of computers the brain (so far as its reasonable). If you're an artist, describe the gradients of political consequences in the form of colors and dissonance between those colors. Basic logical structures such as mutual exclusion, conditionals, and necessary truths exist in all crafts and pulling terminology from those crafts will let you better explain the world through your expertise. If you take this methodology on, then do make sure to explain concepts if they're obscure.

Precision on the other hand is a very fickle thing. Having a good set of words to use is part one, but there's another layer to it that may help: allegories. If you are capable of making allegories, you can make the unfamiliar familiar. Reference concepts that are shared between people, get creative with your comparisons. The worst that may happen is that you are accused of a "weak allegory", that can easily be corrected by saying you're comparing part X of a concept to part Y of a concept rather than all of the first concept to the second. Most people have a skill or at least observe people with skills, craft related allegories are distinctly useful. On top of this, get pedantic with your usage of words. If you say a word in one way, make sure there is no way another interpretation may arise. If you detect another way a statement may be interpreted, do your best to clarify after you say it. The more you practice this act, the quicker you'll get.

Tie them both together

To bring these two concepts together, be sure to come up with explanations for a witty statement as soon as you come up with the witty statement itself. Ultra precision will allow you to better analyze aspects of a concept or entity for comparison, therefore allowing you to compare specific aspects better. Be ultra-precise and focus on allegories you understand. If you don't understand much, get introduced into concepts and arguments that other people make. Take those arguments, point them towards other similar things, synthesize new ideas. Eventually, you'll build an arsenal of rhetoric that will be synonymous with your own style. Once you have a style, you perfect it and adjust it when needed to convey meaning in your ideas as best as you can.

Rambling is good.

Having high amounts of prior knowledge about a subject along with wit is an amazing way to create a feedback loop. Debate yourself, create a devil's advocate personality that is necessarily contrarian. Bounce ideas against yourself and reduce them to their most simple forms to take a stance on and justify your reason for that stance. This ability to ramble to yourself will make you aware of your own reasons for believing things, thus allowing you to understand it more, and thus also allowing you to be more witty with them. On top of this benefit, self-debate will give you an equal level opponent to try to "own with facts and logic". If you are capable of overturning your own ideas, you know you have gotten better, if you cannot, you likely need to study more to be able to defend those ideas (or your ideas are bad, that's always a possibility). Your rhetorical and persuading skills are a stone and you must sharpen it for any value. Being able to ramble alone is great, but can become stagnating. Debate others if possible. Be confrontational and contrarian if you can. Pry into ideas people have and dismantle them to their face. However, be warned that many people will see this as a sign of aggression and you will have to have both tact when doing this and know when to not do this if you value relationships with others. If you can, find someone stubborn, big brained, but open to listening. Spar with this person to sharpen your own skills. If your ideas are good, all you'll need is to do is sharpen them to their best possible points by finding a stubborn and intelligent individual to be the hard surface to grind a stone against. If your ideas are bad, you'll learn quickly by going up against an idea much more solid and stable than your own. So, make sure you can ramble to yourself or ramble to others. More knowledge is good here as those knowledgeable and observant are capable of going on and on about a subject until a point of contention is found. Abuse that to sharpen your intellectual stones, they may appreciate it too if they like sharp stones too.

Build a bridge to enlighten the foreign.

Lets say you find someone who is completely adamant in their beliefs and with good reason too. They're obviously not dumb, but still don't agree with your ideas (that are as good as they can be because you hold them, you do hold ideas based on their quality, right?). So, either you're deluded and wrong or they hold an entirely different axioms than you. Let's say its the latter. In such a case, you're likely not going to win in changing their most basic of axioms. These are held, usually, on a valueistic level and have been either culturally passed down or traumatically implanted (among other ways). These ideas will not be ripped out unless you have someone dangerously open-minded or you're willing to do some damage. However, there is still a chance by building an ideological bridge. They hold some things valuable that you don't hold valuable and vise versa, you believe X, they believe Z, but position Y is something you believe in that they don't. You think they should. You can still make someone holding position Z believe position Y so long as position Z (or any of its consequences) aren't contrary to Y totally. If this is the case, you can argue from their point of view to make them agree with you for the wrong reasons. For example: I care about free software, my friend does not, but he dislikes big tech because of its political censorship. I can make my friend care about free software by telling him that free software allows him to side step big tech. While he surely isn't going to read the GNU Manifesto and swap OS, he does now agree with me that Free Software is, in some way, valuable. Let's give another example: I'm, yet again, in support of Free Software, but my friend does not. Although he's a communist and hates the fact that big corporations are making a profit. However, he doesn't like change in his computing experience. You could leverage his Red-flagged beliefs against his hate for change and force him to pick between one or the other. If he's an honorable and good Marxoid (and I'm convincing and speaking the truth), he'll begrudgingly agree with me and further action can be taken there. If not, than I have failed to see what he values more, and in this case, I also get to make a value judgment for his lack of adherence to what he believes in. These bridge building techniques can make those who don't care about your beliefs start to have reasons to by seeing you as an ally and it allows you to put the stubborn at odds at their own beliefs (for their own good, contradiction is usually not a good thing).

Niche, Practical advice

Ideological Flame war and the intelligent way to be a winner.

Your system of ideology is clashing with another. Let's say that you are pro-skub and the person who you are debating with is anti-skub. The argument is quite heated and very much is prone to emotionalism breaking out. Let's say the anti-skub heretic is applying his rules in unclean ways, but is still stubborn. Your belief is totally opposed to his and thus no value-based compromise can be made. What is there to do here? Some would say to "walk away", but pride is a real thing and winning and proving your beliefs to be superior is a much tastier sweetness than any draw could ever offer. If you cannot convince your opponent, there's always winning in front of an audience. You may talk about this debate or you have people witness it. In any case, you must stay more ideologically bounded and rule based than your opponent. Let's say that skub is good because reason X. Reason X is true because reason Y. Reason Y is true because observation Z. If you are capable of making those hoops and justifying your position, you may end up at a position where you can refute points much better than the anti-skubber. If your audience sees that your ideas are more capable of holding their own, they may seriously consider them more. If your critiques are more damaging and not capable of being refuted, you will probably be believed more. To be the winner in this situation, you must be more witty than your opponent. Even if you're bad at explaining things, those who look past rhetoric may see what you have to say for value. You must make sure that you understand your ideas in and out and are able to apply the rules of your ideas.

You've clearly won, but your opponent won't say you have!

This is a common occurrence, if a bad idea has been trampled by something superior, do not ever ask for your opponent to admit they were wrong (unless you're trolling or intentionally flaming). One, they might not be wrong, but rather don't have the skill or ability to say why. Two, this is very damaging on the ego of a recipient. Ego damage is not a good thing for convincing people of things, it may be satisfying, but all it does is make the debate or talk no longer about the topic, but rather defending pride. Let someone defend something to the last breath, and if your points are truly superior, so much so that the opponent must agree, then you would have backed them into an ideological corner. A good man when presented with better points will silently convert to your side, and that's a good conversion. Even if they don't, you've proven to your audience that you hold the superior ideas. If you have no audience, you have ammo for similar situations and more ideas to examine. No need to be prideful over conquered enemies, but rather be prideful of skill and ability; It's not the fact you defeated an opponent that matters, but rather that your ideas are superior and your wit can justify them that matters.

I've engaged with the emotional by accident, what do I do?

If it's someone you don't really care about, then go ahead and rip and tear into their ideas and punish them rhetorically with shame for being emotional. If they do matter and you can't hurt someone's feelings, then do attempt to do a swift exit. Play dumber than you are, be less precise, misdirect conversation to create a false compromise or false agreement. Do whatever you is necessary to rhetorically defuse a situation before harsher hostility emerges, however, no matter what you do, make sure to never reward emotional debating by becoming the loser. It's better to have a draw than a loss, as a win for them is an ego boost and reinforces the bad, over emotional behavior. Punish whenever possible, stagnate and misdirect when you cannot. The art of bad debating is as important as the art of good debating, misdirection is an important use of wit to steer a conversation. Bring up subjects that are tangentially related, get them to bite on that tangent, get them off topic. If they're emotional, they're not going to be focused on making good points and staying on topic, but rather trying to drill into you for hurting their feelings. So, whenever possible: Defuse. Defuse. Defuse.


There aren't enough people with rhetorical skill to justify what they believe. I'm personally tired of ideological quarreling that ends up with a technical win, but without any sharpening of the mind's stones. Best to teach people how to do practice this than to let myself become dull on the easy victories. If you're no good at debate, but believe things, then do become good at it. There's a whole world of people who need ideas countered and there's an even more desperate world that wishes to test their ideas against those who aren't already sympathetic. Ego-boosts and false victories are no substitute for good discussion. Do yourself, your mind, and your beliefs a favor and properly articulate them whenever you can.