Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Argue and Win Every Time by Gerry Spence (Book Review #109 of 2014)


How to Argue & Win Every Time: At Home, At Work, In Court, Everywhere, Everyday
This book is an enjoyable read written by a lawyer who, according to Wikipedia, has never lost a criminal case as either a prosecutor or defender, and hasn't lost a civil case in 46 years. This was written in 1996, a couple years after I first heard of Spence when he skillfully defended Randy Weaver and exposed major problems in the federal government's actions in the Ruby Ridge case. Spence has defended Imelda Marcos and a host of others.

The negative reviews of this book seem to be by people who wanted a quick silver bullet, which is not what Spence provides. "Winning" has to be defined, as does "argument." Spence states that not every argument can be one, there is no need for a suicide charge. A "tactical retreat" is often a smart maneuver in winning a larger war.

The first part of the book reminded me of Plato, it reads like Socrates' dialectic. Spence (an ardent environmentalist) has an imaginary dialogue with a lumberjack, showing that if you can empower someone ("would you serve on a committee looking at this issue?") in their compromise, you win the argument.  Argument is necessary. It's an important part of identity and personal growth. "Every boss should have a sign on his desk saying 'Argue with me,'" he writes. Spence proposes a new paradigm of argument: Argument is a means by which we bring about change, either in ourselves or others. It is a way to achieve an outcome you desire. What do you want to change?

"You are your own authority," and submitting to an external authority will stunt your growth. Both parties to an argument retain their authority, which makes "winning" somewhat problematic to define. You are simply changing someone without changing their authority, or accepting someone else's argument without relinquishing your own authority.

"All power, yours and theirs, is yours." Our power is creativity, joy, pain, experiences, belonging only to us. "Their power is my perception of their power." Others possess only what we give them. These philosophical/psychological points underpin his argument in the book. (These thoughts on not submitting to outside authorities will be problematic to those who look at an outside source-- like the Bible-- as their authority. Spence does not address absolutes in the book).

We should not live life skeptical of every little thing, but we should be skeptical. We want to trust the salesman, reporter, etc., but we need to listen and think. We also need to be aware of our own prejudices and cognitive biases, as well as the person you're arguing with. "I've learned more from my dogs" than any of the so-called "experts from on high."

Spence writes that you should always tell the truth. An admission on your part scores points with a jury while an exposure of yourself by your opponent undermines your case. Better to confess than be exposed and accused of hiding something.

Tell a complete story. Use pictures in your words. Do not appeal to the jury's intellect, but rather their emotions. Use simple language that paints vivid pictures. (He gives a wonderful example of how he did this in front of an audience hostile to his environmentalism, converting some to his side.) Practice putting emotion into your words. Think of certain situations where you have felt emotion X. Now pick a word you associate with that emotional situation. Say that word with the emotion you associate with that experience. Practice it in your car, the shower, etc. Practice growling, practice showing joy. Spence comes across like an old-time stump speaker or carnival barker; it's obviously effective. Make the "magical argument." "I know this man is innocent and I want badly to show you how I know..."

It is better to convince one person in your audience who will make a lasting change than your entire audience and they forget what you said by morning. "Winning" is the conversion of that one rather than the majority.

Spence concludes the book with great thoughts in regards to communication in marriage. If you want love or respect, you need to communicate love and respect. If you want a major life change, explain to your wife the entire story, what happens first, next, and what the end picture is ("... and we live happily ever after"). Spence regrets misspent years as a parent who saw his children as pupils rather than as independent individuals. He learned from his wife that it's better to show your children respect. If you want your children to respect you, show respect to them by giving them freedom to learn and fail, give them responsibilities, show them trust and watch them earn more. If you want to win the argument with your 16 year old, you have to star when he's 6. If you love unconditionally, people are more willing to listen to your argument-- the argument can be won without words.

The same principles apply at work. If you want respect from your boss, you must always demonstrate that you respect her. If asking for a raise, frame it in terms of the benefit to the company. "With a raise (tuition reimbursement, etc.), I will be able to devote less time to my outside activities, boost company productivity, increase profit, etc." Spence writes that corporations are amoral entities "No one has ever seen a corporation." The corporation exists to make certain people profit, so you win arguments with a corporation only by framing it in the interest of the shareholders.

I found this to be a highly entertaining and personally helpful read. I recommend it. 4 stars out of 5.




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