Want to persuade others? Work on being vague. Sharpen up your ability to be less specific.
Abruptly ending sentences or substituting vague words is a rhetorical device used to help persuade others. It called enthymeme, and according to the dictionary it means “a rhetorical suppression or omission of a premise.”
I love watching the political debate to see what various styles politicians use to persuade others. This particular style is a favorite for Donald Trump.
Trump regularly throws insults at his rivals, accusations that are vague enough to allow for different interpretations, so that potential supporters can tailor his statements to their own beliefs. Effectively, this allows him to get listeners involved psychologically by having them persuade themselves.
This is not a device I typically choose to employ, however, it’s important to understand how it functions in order to be aware of its potential manipulation.
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Although the initial thought may be that persuading others requires citing specific arguments, being vague or indistinct has its merits. If you can pepper your sentences with ambiguity or allow your arguments to trail off unfinished, it leaves you with a better potential defense down the road. If your fuzzy analysis gets thrown back at you, you can simply argue a different interpretation.
The fuzzy factor – using larger than life generalizations and/or innuendo – allows listeners to read into statements whatever they want to read into them. Likewise, using contradictory declarations will give listeners the opportunity to seize upon the thoughts they support while overlooking more questionable ideas. Objective, thinking people will catch onto contradiction and you will lose credibility. However, in today’s distracted world, many people will hear only one side of the story or cling onto their interpretation, simply because it’s less confusing and reaffirms what they already believe. Successfully used, you can simultaneously appeal to opposing parties and get the most support.
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Another advantage is that you don’t really have to commit to a position; you can, instead, you tailor your beliefs as you go along to appeal to the masses.
Finally, holding back specifics allows you to use the withheld information as leverage, later on, a technique used in the courtroom. If plaintiff put too much detail into their claims, the defending lawyer is apt to cross-examine every detail, creating a long, expensive legal debate – encouraging the plaintiff to throw in the towel. This is a lesson I learned the hard way: It’s sometimes in your best interest to stick to basics and stay as vague as possible until such time that you are required to provide detail.
The next time you sense someone is trying to persuade you to adopt a particular position, ask for more specifics and see if you can find their real intention. If, on the other hand, you are trying to persuade others, consider slowly peppering your arguments with facts. Start off being vague then fill in the blanks as necessary, just to see how this persuasion device plays out.
It seems to me, this is a far more popular rhetorical device than ever before. Maybe because information is so readily accessible, maybe because information is a commodity, we have learned to take facts for granted. People seem to be more easily swayed today by simple arguments, even if they are contradictory, rather than facts. [And we haven’t even begun to consider the strength of the written word and the human tendency to believe any thought that is spoken or typed in media!]
Ok readers have your way with this one! Can’t wait to hear your feedback!