This post is a continuation of our series on how to have influence. Part one examined reciprocity, part two focused on the contrast principle, and part three began a discussion on commitment and consistency. This post finishes up part three with a few more tips on how to build common ground.

Technique 2: The Overarching Principle

The second approach is to undermine your audience’s bias and preconceived notions (i.e. preexistent commitments) that prevent you from persuading. What’s the trick? To use the audience’s preconceived notions to your advantage. As the name implies, you use an overarching principle the audience already believes in and show how your idea upholds that principle. Before you actually present the idea, spend time building up the impression that the theme behind it is desirable in such a way the audience already agrees with you. The crucial part is to link your idea to the theme. Not only do you start on common ground, but your message stimulates positive emotions in the audience’s mind. If you look closely at any major advertisement, you will find the same basic framework. Building common ground from universally-appealing themes is the commercially-accepted tactic. Paul did this in his sermon at Mars Hill when he connected the “Unknown God” the Athenians worshipped with the Christian God (Acts 17).

The amazing thing about this technique is that you don’t really have to change your audience’s mind. All you have to do is explain to them why they already agree with you, through an overarching principle they already believe in.

Suppose I am trying to change the mind of someone who believes that imposing steel tariffs is a good idea. I could try this, which is what most people do:

Point 1: Tariffs are counterproductive, harm consumers, harm consuming industries, blah blah blah.

Point 2: This bad because it fails * insert assumed standard or test. *

As soon as I say the first point, my audience is inhibited from being persuaded due to the commitment/consistency principle.

Or, I could try this:

Point 1: Jobs or are super important. (Spend 50-60% of speaking time on this.)

Point 2: Tariffs actually reduce jobs. (Remaining time on this.)

By the time I am done with the first point, the audience will likely already agree with me wholeheartedly, and will believe that whatever I say next will be in favor of jobs. When I say that tariffs actually reduce jobs, there will be that “Aha!” moment, and I will have used one of my audience’s biases to defeat the other.

It is no coincidence that debaters who start on stronger common ground with their audience tend to win more, especially in LD debate and close TP debates.

In cross-ex, the easiest and most simple way to accomplish this is just by getting the other side to agree that your value or standard is important and should be valued – not necessarily above other standards, just that it should be valued by itself. Once you have that general principle agreed upon, and you can get them to agree that that value should be upheld under certain conditions, it is easy to say it should also be held under other conditions as well.

Last year my debate partner and I were running a case to create unilateral free-trade with China through a goal of economic freedom. We had a CX routine that actually went like this, 9 times of out 10:

Q: Should we ever violate economic freedom?

A: No.

Q: Did you ever respond to our arguments on how tariffs violate economic freedom?

A: No.

Technique 3: Listing Commonalities

This third technique has an entire post dedicated to it that you can read here. Essentially, this where you list all the commonalities, and then hone in on the crux (“stasis”).

Dom Cobb asks in the movie Inception, “What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?” He then provides the answer: “An idea. Resilient…highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.” The only difference is that you’re not dreaming.

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