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The three types of argument, and why you should stay in the one about the future

When arguing over a point of view, you are going to find yourself in one of three types of argument. What happened (examining an accident, for example), your values (do you support animal testing, nuclear power etc), or choices for the future. These are the three types of rhetoric.

Today, rhetoric has a bad reputation. It is used as a word to describe meaningless, insincere argument. Actually, it was a Greek word to describe effective or persuasive speaking or writing. The Greek art of rhetoric held that there were three types of argument: forensic, demonstrative and deliberative.

The forensic type was about arguing with facts, or what occurred in the past. It was used in, for example, court cases. It was used to determine blame and guilt.

Demonstrative rhetoric was about the present – which camp or tribe you belong to, based on your values. Good or bad, hero or coward, ally or enemy? Today it is much more about which community of interest you represent.

The prime purpose of deliberative speech was to move people towards future action – new laws or policies that would affect society.

You could say these three types of rhetoric were about the past, the present or the future. As a leader, you are all about the future, so the rhetoric you want to espouse (mostly) is deliberative. Notice that in the case of the woman with child and the controversial subject of animal testing, I moved her to the future by suggesting this would be a choice she would have to make, rather than spend time arguing the facts or values with my attacker.

You can oh so quickly get snarled up in forensic discussions and never make progress. Unless you are powerfully persuasive, arguing over different value sets is also difficult. Much easier is to move to a discussion on choices for the future.

Are you discussing a poor track record of recruitment? Move this discussion quickly to: ‘What are we going to do to stop making poor decisions?’ Are you dealing with poor sales figures? ‘What are we going to do to move forward, and build our pipeline?’ This stops the debate getting caught in quicksand, allowing you to get your point of view across and focus on the more positive choices that will allow you to solve the problem.

In summary

The purpose of articulating a point of view is to align others to you and allow it to impact on their behaviours and beliefs. Leaders must articulate values that are deeply held and that have the power to change not everyone’s mind, but rather the minds of ‘the undecided’ (in political parlance, the swing-voters) and plant seeds of doubt in the minds of those who oppose them. In fact, the act of clarifying ideas in this way is liberating in itself and contains its own dynamic – it most often manifests itself in an increase in your passion and power. This is how leaders come to be seen to have leading (and winning) personalities – their strong viewpoint helps people around them to behave in ways they consider valuable and rewarding in themselves.

Points of view are empowering and liberating because they allow you to deliver your perspective with confidence and passion; they ensure you are highly relevant to your audience, and they establish you as a leader because they will be about the issues and causes that really matter to you.

Try it – it’s powerful stuff.

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