How to Seduce a Cop
A police patrol stops you on the highway and you roll your window down.
You: What’s wrong, officer?
Cop: Did you know that the speed limit here is fifty?
You: How fast was I going?
The temptation to reply with a snappy answer is awful.
You: Whoa, lock me up!
And indeed the satisfaction might be worth the speeding ticket and risk of arrest. But rewind the scene and pause it where the cop says “fifty-five.” Now set your personal goal. What would you like to accomplish in this situation?
Perhaps you would like to make the cop look like an idiot. Your snappy answer accomplishes that, especially if you have passengers for an audience. Good for you. Of course, the cop is unlikely to respond kindly, the result will be a fight, and you are the likely loser. How about getting him to apologize for being a martinet bastard? Sorry. You have to set a realistic goal. F. Lee Bailey and Daniel Webster combined could not get this cop to apologize. Instead, suppose we set as your personal goal the avoidance of a ticket. Now, how are we to do that?
To win a deliberative argument,
don’t try to outscore your opponent.
Try instead to get your way.
It’s unlikely that your opponent knows any rhetoric, however. He probably thinks that the sole point of an argument is to humiliate you or get you to admit defeat. This cognitive dissonance can be useful; your opponent’s aggressiveness makes a wonderful argument tool. Does he want to score points? Let him score points. All you want to do is win—to get your audience to accept your choice or do what you want it to do. People often win arguments on points, only to lose the battle. Although polls showed that people thought John Kerry won the presidential debates against President Bush, the president’s popularity actually improved. The audience liked Kerry’s logic, but they preferred Bush—not the words but the man. Kerry won on points; Bush won the election.
Even if your argument only includes you and another person, with no one else looking on, you still have an audience: the other person. In that case, there are two ways to come out on top: either by winning the argument—getting your opponent to admit defeat—or by “losing” it. Let’s try both strategies on your cop.
1. Win the argument with a bomb-proof excuse.
You: My wife’s in labor! I need to get her to the hospital stat!
Cop: You’re driving alone, Sir.
You: Oh my God! I forgot my wife!
Chances are, this kind of cop won’t care if your wife is having triplets all over the living room floor. But if the excuse works, you win.
2. Play the good citizen you assume the cop wants you to be. Concede his point.
You: I’m sure you’re right, officer. I should have been watching my speedometer more.
Good. You just let the cop win on points. Now get him to let you off easy.
You: I must have been watching the road too closely. Can you suggest a way for me to follow my speedometer without getting distracted?
This approach appeals to the cop’s expertise. It might work, as long as you keep any sarcasm out of your voice. But assume that the appeal needs a little more sweetening.
Cop: You can start by driving under the speed limit. Then you won’t have to watch your speedometer so much.
You: Well, that’s true, I could. I’ve been tailgated a lot when I do that, but that’s their problem, isn’t it?
Cop: Right. You worry about your own driving.
You: I will. This has helped a lot, thanks.
Now what do you think is most likely to happen? I can tell you what won’t happen. The cop won’t order you out of the car. He won’t tell you to stand spread-eagled against it while he pats you down. He won’t call for backup, or even yell at you. You took the anger out of the argument, which these days is no mean accomplishment. And if he actually does let you off with a warning, congratulations. You win. The cop may not recognize it, but you have just notched the best kind of win. He leaves happy, and so do you.
The easiest way to exploit your opponent’s desire to score points is to let him. Concede a point that will not damage your case irreparably. When your kid says, “You never let me have any fun,” you say, “I suppose I don’t.” When a co-worker says, “That’ll never work,” you say, “Hm, maybe not.” Then use that point to change her mood or her mind.
In other words, one way to get people to agree with you is to agree with them—tactically, that is. Agreeing up front does not mean giving up the argument. Instead, use your opponent’s point to get what you want. Practice rhetorical jiu-jitsu by using your opponent’s own moves to throw him off balance. Does upfront agreeing seem to lack in stand-up-for-yourselfishness? Yes, I suppose it does. But wimps like us shall inherit the rhetorical Earth. While the rest of the world fights, we’ll argue. And argument gets you what you want more than fighting does.