Know What to Say, When to Say It, and What Not to Say
Know What to Say,
When to Say It,
and What Not to Say
Because every argument has slippery slopes
The Green Machine was a team of 7-year-old AYSO soccer play-
ers. My daughter Melissa was a Green Machine player. The Titans
were their rivals.
Todd was a Titan. During one very close game, Todd’s father ran up
and down the sidelines screaming, “Todd, you’re not hustling!” “Run! Run!!
Run!!!” “Todd, keep your eye on the ball!” I felt embarrassed for Todd. But
what should or could I do?
Finally, my neighbor John cupped his hands and shouted across the
playing field, “If you want Todd to be a champion, you’ll have to yell a lot
louder than that!”
In this chapter you’ll discover eight business-as-usual
argument moves. But how they play out may not be to
your liking.
Meet Libby and Sam
Because they argue with Sue about schoolwork
Our high schooler, Sue, is bright and capable. That’s
the good news. The bad news is that just about everything
takes a priority over homework.
We’ve tried the usual approaches: “Please, I can’t take it
anymore. You’ve got to do your homework” and “What
am I going to do with you?” What arguments can we possi-
bly make to convince Sue to get serious about school?
From bookstore signings and radio show call-ins, it was clear what
moms and dads in cities and towns big and small were thinking. When
presented with similar scenarios, here are the supposedly “cool moves” and
“hot tips” suggested by call-in audiences:
1. Liking: Be incredibly nice to Sue so she will feel obligated
to reciprocate by studying more.
2. Specific payoff to be earned: “Sue, if you study more, I’ll
increase your allowance by half.”
3. Punishment to be imposed: “Sue, if you don’t study more,
I’ll cut your allowance in half.”
4. Personal betterment: “Sue, if you study more, it will be
your gain because you’ll have bettered yourself.”
5. Loss of betterment: “Sue, not studying is your loss because
you’re not living up to your potential.”
6. Specific payoff in advance of compliance: “Sue, I’m raising
your allowance by half, but I expect you to study much more.”
7. Specific punishment in advance of compliance: “Sue, I’m
cutting your allowance in half until you start studying more.”
8. Personal satisfaction: “Sue, by studying harder you’ll
feel better about yourself knowing you have given school
your all.”
9. Loss of satisfaction: “Sue, if you don’t study you’ll go
through life blaming yourself for not having given the best
you have to give.”
10. Appeal to morality: “Sue, it’s morally wrong not to study
so you can be all you can possibly be.”
Know What to Say, When to Say It, and What Not to Say
11. Appeal to popular opinion: “Sue, your family and friends
will be so proud of you if you get good grades.”
12. Fear of rejection: “Sue, the family will be so disappointed
if you don’t get good grades.”
13. Personal request: “Sue, I want you to get into a good
college. As a favor to me, I want you to study harder.”
14. Sense of indebtedness: “Sue, I am sacrificing so you don’t
need to work after school. You owe it to me to study harder
and get good grades.”
15. Logic: “Sue, college graduates earn much more than
nongraduates. With that extra income you’ll be able to have
a much nicer home, car, and clothes.”
16. Appeal to self-esteem: “Sue, a smart and mature person
would want to study to make the most of herself.”
17. Threat to self-esteem: “Sue, it would be irresponsible and
immature of you not to take full advantage of a wonderful
Some of these suggestions are bribes. Some are warm and fuzzy pitches.
Others are bullying, whining, wheedling, plodding, prodding, threatening, in-
timidating, disparaging, minimizing, or strong-arming.
Which of these 17 argument plays would you choose? Which of these
plays have you used in arguments? Which ones worked well for you? Which
ones did not?
How would you argue if Sue were your daughter?
Was your answer…
A logic play? You can tell Sue the reasons she should study. But people
reacting emotionally don’t always respond to logic. Logic is a response to
Sue’s reasons given rather than Sue’s reasons not disclosed.
A domination play? (“You cannot....” “I insist that you....” “You are
required to....” “My policy is....”) A domination play is an invitation to a power
struggle. A “because I’m the mommy, that’s why” argument is only effective
when the parties both recognize and accept the power relationship.
Quick Quiz

Get How to Win Any Argument now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.