Law 9: Win Through Your Actions - Never Through Argument

Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.

Take the engineer in Athens receiving orders from his commander Mucianus to send the largest ship’s mast to be used to help in the siege of the town of Pergumus. The engineer argued that what the commander needed was not the larger mast, but the smaller which would be better suited for the task. Mucianus was infuriated and sent for the engineer who continued to try to explain his reasoning for sending the smaller mast. For his disobedience, he was flogged and scourged with rods until he died.

The engineer’s argument went on deaf ears. Nobody cared whether or not it was more prudent to use the smaller mast. The fact of the matter was that a superior gave a command and he decided that by insulting the intelligence of his master by arguing was more important.

Unlike Michelangelo, the engineer did not exercise the correctness of his ideas indirectly. When Florence’s mayor, Piero Sorderini told Michelangelo that the nose on his sculpture that he had been commissioned to do of a young David with sling in hand was too big, he did not argue that the nose was just right, Michelangelo merely took the mayor onto the scaffolding and gave the appearance of changing the nose. Sorderini was pleased and no one was offended.

Two Long-Term Affects of Your Words

1. Resentment: When people agree with you politely, but are really thinking something totally different.

2. Offended: You said something inadvertently but according to the other person’s mood was misinterpreted.

You’ve heard the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” Actions and demonstrations are much more powerful than any rhetoric that one can spew out his mouth. There are no offensive words, no possibility of misinterpretation. No one can argue with demonstrated proof. As Baltasar Gracian remarks, "The truth is generally seen, rarely heard." Yet beyond actions, the most powerful persuasion is symbolic.

Symbols like a flag or mythic story or monument is something we all understand without the exchanging one word. Henry Kissinger, who in 1979 suddenly broke off an intense meeting with the Israelis over the return of the Sinai desert to go sight-seeing to an ancient place in Masada, Masada is where seven thousand Jewish warriors were said to commit mass suicide in A.D. 73 rather than give in to the Roman troops. The Israelis knew that Kissinger’s message was much more than just a warning; it was a significant emotional symbol that made them think far more seriously than any oratorical rhetoric he could have placated.

Choose Your Battles Wisely

Sometimes it is best to conserve your energy and walk away. Then there are other times when the heat of an argument will be beneficial to you. On the opposite end of the spectrum it is advantageous to argue with all the convictions you can muster. The more emotional, the better, especially when caught in a web of deception, you need to draw the other person into the argument so as to distract and confuse.

Phases of a Convincing Deceptive Argument

1. Feign ignorance: Like the con artist, Victor Lustig who sold boxes for $10,000 and claimed that the boxes could make money. When confronted by Sheriff Richards of Remsen County, Oklahoma that the box did not work, he acted as if he could not believe it. He went as far as to ask the sheriff if he had operated it properly. This is the way to place doubt in the mind of the offended party.

2. Put a technical spin or rhetoric on the deception: In the case of Lustig, he was masterful in his wording about the box. This was nothing more than a bunch of technical gobbledygook that further confused the sheriff, who then let his guard down because of his own insecurity about the function of the box.

3. Offer something for nothing: Lustig offered to give the sheriff his money back and to come back to the town to fix the box although he knew that the box would never work and the money was not real. He diffused a situation that could have been deadly for him. He had won the argument and was able to get the sheriff jailed for passing counterfeit bills in the process.