Quote: “You’re right. Now will you please get me some toothpaste?” Figaro, in a passage adapted from his book.
Figure of Speech: concessio (con-CESS-io), the ju-jitsu of argument.
As a writer, Figaro doesn’t have to shave every day. (Marketers despairingly call a consumer like him a “low self-monitor.”) He does have his standards, though, and hygiene is one. A tooth-brushing crisis led to this exchange with his teenaged son.
I grab toothbrush and toothpaste. The tube is empty. The nearest replacement sits on a shelf in our freezing basement, and I’m not dressed for the part.
“George!” I yell. “Who used all the toothpaste?”
A sarcastic voice answers from the other side of the door. “That’s not the point, is it, Dad?” George says. “The point is how we’re going to keep this from happening again.”
He has me. I have told him countless times how the most productive arguments use the future tense, the language of choices and decisions.
“You’re right,” I say. “You win. Now will you please get me some toothpaste?”
“Sure.” George retrieves a tube, happy that he beat his father at an argument.
Or did he? Who got what he wanted? In reality, by conceding his point, I persuaded him. If I simply said, “Don’t be a jerk and get me some toothpaste,” George might have stood there arguing. Instead I made him feel triumphant, triumph made him benevolent, and that got me exactly what I wanted. I achieved the height of persuasion: not just an agreement, but one that gets an audience — a teenaged one at that — to do my bidding.
No, George, I win.
That’s the point of concessio (“concession”), one of argument’s most powerful and least-used tools. Arguments often fail because we try to score points instead of get what we want. They also fail because we think manipulation must always a bad thing. Yet Figaro manipulated his son and they both came away happy.
And he says to himself, what a wonderful rhetorical world.
Snappy Answer: “Will George fall for that again?”