In 2010, Domino’s Pizza company was unquestionably on the decline; beset by complaints that their pizza crusts tasted like cardboard, the company’s stock lowered to the same price as a pizza. Today, Domino’s is the second-largest pizza chain in the world, with more than 12,500 locations in more than 80 countries, and a share price approaching $160. What happened? In short, Domino’s admitted its failures (among other things). They literally created advertisements that broadcasted customers’ complaints, and then said: “Here’s why we’re better and what we’re changing”. Harvard Business Review explains “Viewers of these ads described them as “bold” and “refreshing,” and gave the company credit for acknowledging what everyone already knew… The result: store sales rose and quarterly profits doubled.”
Here is a simple way to simultaneously be more persuasive and manage your time better: Concede and outweigh.
A few examples of how this plays out:
- Instead of refuting every major contention of your opponent’s case, concede the unimportant ones, and outweigh them using impact calculus.
- Instead of trying to refute every disadvantage against your case, concede the unimportant ones, and outweigh them using impact calculus.
- Instead of disagreeing with everything your opponent says in CX, agree unless it is absolutely necessary for you to disagree.
You get the idea. The main point is to agree when convenient (which can be up to 90% of the time), and disagree when necessary.
How does one know which arguments are “unimportant”? An easy measure is that unimportant arguments are those which do not correspond to one’s goal or standard. Thus, unimportant arguments are the ones that you can concede and outweigh, and still “win” the flow. “Weighing” means you compare the significance of your arguments (which should be few and potent) and show WHY they are more important than your opponent’s best arguments.
“Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided… It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses.” – Aristotle, in Rhetoric (emphasis added)
Fact: people who appear reasonable are more persuasive than people who do not appear reasonable. When you concede and outweigh, you appear reasonable to the audience: in effect, you are saying “I can agree and am capable of conflict resolution. I am a mature communicator.” Further, it sends a message that you actually believe your arguments are better than your opponents, because how you treat your opponent’s arguments signals to the audience what you think about them. Don’t completely ignore your opponent’s arguments, but don’t automatically assume each one deserves to be disproven, either.
One will also find he will have freed up much more speaking time; more time to build up his case, for example.
I saw this done splendidly several years ago when the NCFCA TP resolution was reforming US policy towards the Middle-East. The team that ended up winning nationals was running a policy to end US counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan. They had a bunch of evidence the operations are counterproductive and have many unintended consequences. Whenever the negative team read evidence listing off any (apparent) benefits of the programs, this team would simply concede the benefits, and explain how the CONs outweighed and exceeded the PROs, whether it was in terms of magnitude, scope, time, or morality. The result? They made a plan that seemed dubious at first glance exceedingly appealing.
Concession is not only persuasive, it is representative of reality. There is rarely a situation where everything your opponent says is false. Most of the time, the vast majority of discourse covers areas where both sides agree. So by conceding and outweighing, one is upholding reality, upholding truth as we know it. There is a reason why the word “reasonability” comes from the root word “reason,” a Middle English word meaning “to explain why it is.”
This is how daily decision-making works. We “concede and outweigh” all the time without thinking about it. For example, when I am trying to decide which college to go to, I don’t decide only by comparing the pros of one college and the cons of another. Rather, I list all the pros and cons of each and decide which are most important.
Conceding and outweighing is both the lazy man’s and the rhetorician’s best tool. Its user can dismiss his opponent’s entire case with a wave of his hand (imagine that!), without appearing rude (for indeed his tool isn’t rude). His declaration “true but useless!”, uttered with rhetorical flair, is a slap in the face to Superficiality, Sophistry, and Polarization who are used to dominating political discourse, in all of its bitter glory. The wise user, on the other hand, can engage in a substantive, focused clash without engaging in the robotic minutiae that can make rhetoric boring and often incomprehensible.
You may still think Domino’s pizza sucks (I am not prone to disagree), but their story illustrates a principle crucial to critical thinking and communication skills. You may have heard the saying “agree to disagree,” but I say to you: “agree to agree,” — at least in the context of rhetoric.