Persuasion: War of the Words

How to argue effectively, convince others you are right and win every time.

By Alison Fromme, published on March 1, 2007 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The Book

Thank You for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs (Three Rivers Press)

The Promise

Drawing on examples from The Simpsons, Aristotle, politics, and his own personal life, Heinrichs illustrates argumentative—not combative—techniques to convince others that you're right, such as appearing selfless, spotting fallacies, and subtly deploying innuendo.

The Test

On a recent night, my goal was simple: convince my husband to get out of bed to shut off the space heater before we both fell asleep. I began, "It's warm, eh?" He complained that he always shuts off the heater and it was clearly my turn. According to the book, I should have conceded my husband's point and made an emotional plea. Instead, I stalled by asking if he was still cold. He recognized my distraction attempt and called me on it, adding that he didn't want to waste electricity by letting the heater run all night. He had blatantly changed the argument from the original issue to one of saving money—a Heinrichs twist he employed without reading the book. I should have recognized it, but in my frustration, I just huffed and surrendered.

The Verdict

Despite losing the space heater argument, I could dissect the exchange with deeper understanding. By page 16 of the book, I could even identify instances when Heinrichs used his own tricks against readers. He presents no-nonsense speech tactics (circumlocution, tautology) with easy friendliness—only halfway through the book did I realize that I was receiving a serious education in the art of rhetoric.