We hear a lot about charm in pop culture. But what is it? For people looking to be more alluring and persuasive, I offer a rhetorical take on charm.
A dichotomy is an equal split, taking a subject and saying, “There is THIS or THAT. The end.” Implied in the dichotomy is choice. Choose one side of the dichotomy or the other because choosing both would be a contradiction.
True dichotomies follow two criteria:
- Everything you’re discussing fits into EITHER one side of the dichotomy or the other.
- Nothing you’re discussing fits SIMULTANEOUSLY in both sides.
Violate either principle and you commit the logical fallacy of “false dichotomy.” Not cool.
For instance, if Joel claims that all food is either sweet or sour, he violates the first criterion since some food is bitter, savory, salty, etc. He also violates the second criterion because some food is both sweet and sour at the same time. BOO Joel.
Legit dichotomies can be rhetorically powerful as tools for framing debates. But the greatest power in dichotomy is breaking one. Let’s discuss:
Robert Benchley: “My good man, would you please get me a taxi?”
Uniformed Man: “I’m not a doorman. I’m an admiral in the United States Navy.”
Robert Benchley: “Alright then. Get me a battleship.”
I bet you rarely agree with people who cry when you ask them tough questions—or buy things from salesmen who wave their arms and scream at you. (Wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men notwithstanding.)
But what about a politician who stands on his convictions, who fights for them with enthusiasm—or a salesman who knows everything about the product and exudes confidence? Sold!
When you’re giving any form of public talk, sales pitch, or even sharing an opinion with your friends, one factor that can make or break the outcome is how you manage your demeanor. Do you get angry easily? Do you speak softly with little conviction? Do you make eye contact?
It’s all a matter of poise, and it can affect your ethos for better or worse.
We often hear about poise as a single attribute. Either someone has it or they don’t. Like the flu. But upon reflection poise seems to be a more complicated concept. I’ve seen people “lose” their poise mid-speech, and I’ve seen people “gain” it after stumbling out of the gate.
So what exactly is poise?
Pictures are powerful. Single images have defined generations and persuaded thousands of people to action. Yet even in the formal study of rhetoric there is comparatively little to say about visual persuasion.
Meanwhile pictures are getting bigger. Sometimes literally, in the case of social media and digital communities, but also in the sense of their importance. We see hundreds of persuasive images a day. Some we notice, most we don’t. A select few capture our attention and may even convince us to do something—buy a bike, exercise, donate to a cause, etc.
If we are to be better rhetors, we need to have at least a basic understanding of the principles of visual communication and persuasion.
Let’s have a look…
Comment threads and forums are especially heinous offenders. Cull the subterrane of Internet commenting and you’ll discover the same arguments over and over and over … (You’ll also discover a bounty of racism, sexism, and every other nasty/weird -ism.)
But the careful rhetor will notice it’s not the content that repeats ad infinitum. The content seems limitless—from superhero disputes to political snarl to grammar wars to fashion skirmishes. What repeats are the lines of argument. Something caused something else. Someone is greater than someone else. Somewhere is unlike anywhere else. Etc.
These are what Aristotle called topoi or “topics.” They are ways to examine or present arguments that are common to any content. And for anyone finding it difficult to discover the most effective means of persuasion, they can be a real lifesaver.
There are 7 kinds of topics (with about 27 total) and 8 special topics (specific to genres of rhetoric). But these are the four most common:
- Past Fact
- Future Fact
Can you feel the excitement? (I can.) But let’s not stray off topic…
Think about the people you know and what it takes to convince them. (I’ll give you a moment. …) You probably know a guy who needs an argument spelled out step-by-step. And you definitely have a “tug-at-their-heartstrings” acquaintance. And you likely have a friend who will “take your word for it” because she trusts you.
You naturally approach these folks differently, probably without even realizing it, because you’re familiar with them. But if you take a moment to think about it (I’ll give you a moment …) I bet you can identify patterns. Aristotle did. He realized there are three primary appeals when you’re trying to persuade: Appeal to logic, appeal to emotion, and appeal to character—logos, pathos, and ethos respectively.
We use every rhetorical appeal in every argument, but knowing when to shift the emphasis of your argument appropriately—from emotion to logic or from logic to character—can be the difference between convincing or repulsing your audience.
Sometimes it also means knowing where your argument will thrive and where it won’t. Here’s some advice for using each appeal and a social network to hone your skills…
“For the genuine orator must have investigated and heard and read and discussed and handled and debated the whole of the contents of the life of mankind, inasmuch as that is the field of the orator’s activity, the subject matter of his study. […] And if we bestow fluency of speech on persons devoid of those virtues, we shall not have made orators of them but shall have put weapons in the hands of madmen.”
Rhetoric gets a bad rap nowadays but for a good reason. Few people know what it is…