Even if you don’t realize it, you’re probably using rhetoric when you’re trying to persuade someone to join or agree with you. If you mention that you have previous experience with the task at hand, you’re using an appeal to ethos (using your credibility to gain trust). Using facts and statistics to back you up? That’s an appeal to logos (using logic to appeal to your audience’s intelligence). And, if you’re using an emotional story that relates to why you need their support, there’s your appeal to pathos (using their emotions to gain support).
Out of all of the modes of writing, rhetorical composition is probably my favorite. It’s highly purposeful and springboards nearly every field in some form. If you need to convince someone of something, persuade someone, or define something, that’s all rhetoric.
But here’s the tricky part–rhetoric comes in a variety of shapes, and there are some forms that you should avoid if you’re trying to become a respectable leader. With every rhetorical strategy, if it’s taken too far, there’s a logical fallacy to accompany it. For example, if you take your inductive reasoning too far, it risks becoming a hasty generalization. So, here are a few rhetorical fallacies to avoid at all costs to when forming an argument as a leader.
Personal Attacks (argumentum ad hominem)
I remember in one of my high school English classes, we watched a slew of presidential debates and counted how many times the candidates slandered each other. This method is highly ineffective because all it’s really doing is undermining your opponent’s character in an attempt to disprove their argument. I’ll be the first to say it: bad people can make really good arguments, and sometimes, personal morals and persuasive arguments aren’t necessary correlated. But, this isn’t the type of rhetoric that’ll encourage support on your part–it isn’t using any high level diplomacy or analytical skills; I see it as a cop out, and it damages the speaker’s credibility because it comes across that the speaker can’t find anything wrong with the opponent’s argument, so s/he is resorting to issues in the opponent’s character instead of issues with the actual issues in an attempt to disprove.
- “You wouldn’t understand the importance of welfare, since you’ve lived a privileged life.”
- “How can you make laws on trade with Sweden if you’ve never even lived there?”
- “I’d expect you to think that about global warming, since you own a Hummer.”
Hasty generalizations are the easiest way to convince your audience that you’re close-minded or uneducated about a subject. When you oversimplify an argument, you’re not eliminating its complexity–what you’re actually doing is eliminating proof of your understanding of it. Some of the largest social issues we face today are severely complex: discrimination, climate change, and ethics, to name a few, are issues that your audience realizes has many sides. To ignore those sides promotes the thought that your opinion didn’t take any of those into account and that, as a speaker, you might be totally alright with making an opinion with very limited information.
- All lawyers became lawyers so they could argue all day.
- People who shop at department stores are pretentious.
- Everyone on enemy line is evil.
Genetic fallacies can sometimes be thought of as the cross between ad hominem attacks and hasty generalizations. What a genetic fallacy does is propose something about someone or something because of its origin; it attempts to eternally classify or predict the future of something based on its history. It relates to ad hominem attacks because it could involve, say, accusing someone of being of poor character because of his/her origins, and it generalizes by assuming that everyone/thing from a particular origin are a certain way. Hasty generalizations can even be used to negate an idea because it wasn’t how you were taught. As a speaker, using this fallacy is kind of like capitalizing on stereotyping and selective listening. If you’re only relying on what you’ve been taught to be true, and you’re not interested in hearing from anyone with a different background, we’ve got a much bigger problem here.
- “I always went to church when I was younger, so Allah isn’t real.”
- “You’re Italian, so you probably would’ve agreed with Mussolini, right?”
- “I don’t eat Black Forest Cake–the Nazi’s liked that.”
Overall, rhetoric is tough. It’s really an art of knowing your audience and understanding how you’re coming across to them. There seems to be a balance with persuasion as well, and the most skilled you are in tactfully utilizing a variety of rhetorical strategies, the stronger you can present your argument as a leader.