By Theo Winter
Mr. Rochester: I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative tonight. That’s why I sent for you. The fire and the chandelier were not sufficient company for me. I can’t talk to an old lady or a young child, nor Pilot (the dog), but you — you puzzled me the first evening I invited you down here. It would please me now to draw you out, to learn more of you. Therefore speak. Jane Eyre: About what, sir? Mr. Rochester: Oh, whatever you like.
— Jane Eyre, BBC TV Mini-Series (1983)
For an absurd length of time, I’ve been promising myself that I would put together a storehouse of important models and concepts around communication, persuasion, relationships, rhetoric, argument, and debate.
Something simply must exist to satisfy those, “Hey Theo, got any ideas on…?” email requests, but I’ve also noticed that many articles begin and end their analysis on How to Be a Better Speaker / Communicator with just one framework: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Ageless and trusted as that framework may be, I believe there’s a lot more to see in the grand Universe of Thought and someone really ought to get off their lazy bottom and organise everything into a single, free, beautifully written, convenient place.
Today is your lucky day! (Well, not the beautifully written part… obvs). What I’m aiming for here is a resource that’s easy to scan, something that could be used to spark ideas, speed up the development of course content, prompt further exploration, and generally improve the quality of communication, argument, critical thinking, and collaboration.
This list is much less an official or ultimate reference guide than a directory of ideas in development. I want to emphasise treating this page as dynamic (not static) — likely to change, have ongoing edits and additions as better ideas are brought along. If I don’t start this now or if I obsess over definitions and grammar, it will die in my drafts, so let’s get started.
Good Faith vs. Bad Faith. In public discussion and debate, good faith can be seen as having a commitment to truth seeking and honest engagement with people and their ideas, whereas bad faith would involve deceit, manipulation, spin, attempting to embarrass your opponent, etc.
Intellectual Honesty. Related to arguing in Good Faith, intellectual honesty can be seen as a general commitment to upholding truth and consistency, which might include: seeking to believe what is most likely to be true rather than what you wish to be true; attempting to set aside bias, personal preference, in-group favouritism and other conflicts of interests in the pursuit of truth; demonstrating consistency in how you accept, reject, and evaluate beliefs; not pretending to know what you don’t know; resisting the use of unethical tactics or intentionally committing logical fallacies; seeking out disconfirming evidence and diverse perspectives; admitting when you’re in the wrong and changing your beliefs as the evidence changes.
Double Standards. Applying different criteria, rules, or principles to situations where the same standards should apply. Accusing someone of being superstitious for believing a certain symbol or sign brings bad luck while owning something that you believe brings good luck might be an example of double standards.
Principle of Charity. Interpreting a speaker or writer’s statements in the fairest way possible, especially when ambiguity is present.
Hanlon’s Razor. Don’t attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. Put another way: don't assume bad intentions over human error or misunderstanding.
Facts vs. Opinions. A fact is a true statement that can be proven objectively or verified independently, while an opinion is a statement that contains subjective feelings, values, or prejudices.
Facts vs. Stories. Storytelling is often cited as an effective persuasion tool with far greater impact than cold data. For example, in the book "Made to Stick," the authors note that "When students are asked to recall the speeches, 63% remember the stories. Only 5% remember any individual statistic."
Picking Your Battles / Battleground. What are you trying to achieve? Will it be a productive use of your time? Who is your interlocutor / audience? Are you arguing to persuade them or certain onlookers? Is it a good time? Are you calm, clear-headed, and well rested? Are they? Is the issue ancient or new? Simple or complex? Taboo or accepted? Low stakes or high stakes? Are people’s identities or reputations involved? Is the format or forum conducive to (mis)understanding?
Psychological Safety. A term often used in research around team development and group dynamics, this concerns the basic sense that one is safe to engage in interpersonal risk taking (e.g., to express one’s thoughts/feelings honestly, without fear of punishment).
Common Ground. A common approach to building trust and fostering productive debate is to look for areas of agreement or aspects associated with a position that may have some merit or validity. It may also extend to bringing up similar likes, hobbies, or other personal characteristics or preferences shared between parties.
Playing Devil's Advocate. Arguing a point or position that one does not necessarily agree with in order to explore the thought more fully, raise potential risks, consider the negative/downside, or open the way to a better solution.
Thinking Out Loud. Expressing unrefined thoughts or arguments; developing ideas on the fly, which can be useful as a conversational preface to make clear that you are “exploring” rather than “declaring.”
Tit for Tat. One of the most well known and effective strategies in game theory, and related to the principle of reciprocity, Tit for Tat aims to reflect cooperative or uncooperative behaviour with the same: favours returned for assistance; retaliation for injury (“an eye for an eye”).
Win-Win / Non-Zero-Sum Games. A type of game, negotiation, or transaction in which all the participants profit, as contrasted with Win-Lose (in order for one to gain, the other party has to lose) and Lose-Lose (neither party gets what they want).
The Prisoner’s Dilemma. A classic thought experiment in game theory to illustrate the payoff of cooperative vs. selfish behaviours in situations where the parties cannot communicate directly, the basic version imagines two criminals in separate rooms at a police station. If one of the criminals chooses to rat and the other chooses to be silent, the “rat” goes free and their partner gets 3 years in prison. If they “betray” and rat on each other, they both get 2 years. If they “cooperate” and both remain silent, they get 1 year each.
Logical Fallacies. These usually play an essential role in argument, even if the arguers don’t know their names. While it’s possible to identify hundreds of logical fallacies (e.g., the book Logically Fallacious has a collection of over 300), some the most common ones can be found in this chart. Important fallacies include:
Ad Hominem: When the character of an individual is attacked instead of the argument. Straw Man: When a position is distorted or oversimplified. Appeal to Authority: Something is true because a person or institution says so. Appeal to Ignorance: Something is true or false because it has not been proven otherwise. False Dichotomy: Presenting only two options or possibilities when more exist. False Cause: A cause and effect relationship is incorrectly believed to be true. Hasty Generalisation: The sample of evidence is too small to justify the conclusion. Personal Incredulity: Something cannot be true because it is difficult to understand. Bandwagon: Something must be true because others believe it. Tu Quoque Fallacy: Appealing to hypocrisy rather than engaging with the argument. Fallacy Fallacy: If a flaw is found somewhere, the whole argument must be invalid. Genetic Fallacy: When the argument rests on source, origin, or "because it's natural," not merit. Appeal to Tradition: When the argument invokes past or present tradition, without merit. Slippery Slope: Consequences thought to follow cannot actually be proven or justified. Irrelevant Conclusion / Missing the Point: The conclusion fails to address the issue. Red Herring: Something distracts or diverts attentions away from the issue. Non Sequitur: ("It does not follow.") The transition between two thoughts isn't logical.
Strawmanning vs. Steelmanning. Strawmanning is a distortion or misrepresentation of someone’s argument (i.e., engaging with a version of someone’s argument that is either not theirs or a lower quality version than the reality). Steelmanning is the opposite: an attempt to find and engage with the best possible version of an argument.
Burden of Proof: The obligation, onus or duty typically falls on the person making a claim to provide proof/support, not on others to disprove it. Once you have provided sufficient evidence, the burden may shift. Standards of what constitutes sufficient evidence and where the burden of proof lies vary. You may be familiar with the standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” in the U.S. legal system for criminal prosecution.
Presumption of Innocence. One should not be assumed guilty of a suspected crime or a wrong-doing until proven otherwise.
Hitchen’s Razor: "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” — Christopher Hitchens
Sagan's Standard: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” — Carl Sagan
Occam's Razor: A theory that explains a phenomenon with a large number of assumptions is less preferable than a theory that can explain it just as well but with a smaller number of assumptions.
The Golden Rule. Treating others as you would want to be treated.
The Silver Rule. Not treating others as you would not want to be treated.
The Platinum Rule. Treating others as they would want to be treated.
Socratic Method. A form of drawing out assumptions and testing ideas based on asking and answering questions, chiefly characterised by the attempt to define terms, cross-examine ideas, and expose contradictions.
Ethos, Pathos, Logos. (3 Modes of Persuasion). Famous in speaking and presenting, these three rhetorical devices were introduced by Aristotle.
Ethos: appeal to credibility or character (especially if you are an expert or have special qualifications related to the subject). Pathos: appeal to emotion (especially with story and metaphor). Logos: appeal to reason or logic (especially with evidence, facts, and statistics).
Six Principles of Influence. Famous in marketing and sales, coined by Dr. Robert Cialdini, the six principles of influence are:
Reciprocity: people want to return favours Commitment and Consistency: people want to honour things they have agreed to Social Proof: people like to know what others think Authority: people will tend to trust authority figures Liking: people are more likely to trust messages from sources they like Scarcity: people want rare items
Refuting the central point: explicitly refutes the central point Refutation: finds the mistake and explains why it’s mistaken using quotes Counterargument: contradicts and then backs it up with reasoning and/or supporting evidence Contradiction: states the opposing case with little or no supporting evidence Responding to tone: criticises the tone of the writing without addressing the substance of the argument Ad hominem: attacks the characteristics or authority of the writer without addressing the substance of the argument Name-calling: sounds something like, “You are an ass hat."
Graham’s 4 Components of Useful Writing. "It's easy to make a statement correct by making it vague. That's a common flaw in academic writing," says Paul Graham in his post on How to Write Usefully. "Useful writing makes claims that are as strong as they can be made without becoming false." The 4 components are:
Correctness: what you say is true. Importance: what you say is worth the reader's time. Novelty: what you say tells people something they didn't know. Strength: what you say is bold, including "the skillful use of qualification."
The 1 other quality Graham aims for in essays is "to say things as simply as possible. But I don't think this is a component of usefulness."
Rapoport's Rules. In his book “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking” Daniel Dennett lists four rules (based on the ideas of Anatol Rapoport) to compose a successful critical commentary:
1: You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” 2: You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement). 3: You should mention anything you have learned from your target. 4: Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
Lasswell's 5 Ws. Also known as Lasswell's model of communication, any act of communication can be defined and analysed in terms of the following five categories:
Who? Says What? In Which Channel? To Whom? With What Effect?
The 7 C's of Communication. A popular checklist in business and communications training. Attempts at communication should generally aim to be:
Clear Concise Concrete Correct Coherent Complete Courteous
KISS. Keep it simple, stupid!
WIIFM. What’s in it for me?
THINK. A popular acronym seen on social media. Before you text, type, or speak you should ask yourself: T - is it true? H - is it helpful? I - is it inspiring? N - is it necessary? K - is it kind?
The Ferguson Checklist. “Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said by me now?” — Craig Ferguson
Principles of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Developed by communications and conflict resolution expert Dr. Marshall Rosenberg and popularised in the bestseller “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life,” NVC is an approach focused on improving empathy, collaboration, and connection, with many facets and components, underpinned by ten core principles.
1. All human beings share the same needs 2. Our world offers sufficient resources for meeting everyone's basic needs 3. All actions are attempts to meet needs 4. Feelings point to needs being met or unmet 5. All human beings have the capacity for compassion 6. Human beings enjoy giving 7. Human beings meet needs through interdependent relationships 8. Human beings change 9. Choice is internal 10. The most direct path to peace is through self-connection
Marshall Rosenberg's NVC Quote Collection. This is a large collection of "Tweetable" and "Facebook-able" Quotes on Nonviolent Communication. Some examples include:
At the root of every tantrum and power struggle are unmet needs. Our goal is to create a quality of empathic connection that allows everyone's needs to be met. When people hear needs, it provokes compassion. When people hear diagnoses, it provokes defensiveness and attack. How I choose to look at any situation will greatly affect whether I have the power to change it or make matters worse. Keep in mind that other people's actions can never 'make' you feel any certain way. Feelings are your warning indicators. I wouldn't expect someone who's been injured to hear my side until they felt that I had fully understood the depth of their pain. Often, instead of offering empathy, we have a strong urge to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Whether I praise or criticize someone's action, I imply that I am their judge, that I'm engaged in rating them or what they have done.
12 Tactics of Manipulation. Psychologist David M. Buss identified 12 tactics of influence that partners have been observed to use in close relationships.
Charm: Compliment him so he'll do it. Reason: Explain why you want him to do it. Silent Treatment: Ignore him until he agrees to do it. Pleasure Induction: Show him how much fun it is. Social Comparison: Tell him that everyone is doing it. Monetary Reward: Offer him money so he will do it. Coercion: Criticise or yell at him for not doing it. Responsibility Invocation: Get him to make a commitment to do it. Regression: Whine until he does it. Reciprocity-Reward: Tell him you'll do him a favour if he'll do it. Debasement: Act submissive so he'll do it. Hardball: Lie, threaten or hit him so that he will do it.
Chinese Whispers / Telephone. A classic game in which a message is verbally communicated down a line of people, one at a time, often used to demonstrate how easily information can change or be misinterpreted from its original form, particularly as the number of senders and receivers increases.
Mind Reading. Assuming you know what someone is thinking, what their intent was, or what they really meant.
“But” vs. “And.” A common piece of communications advice is to substitute “but” with “and,” where possible, since “but” can be seen as negating whatever came before. Another suggestion is to rearrange the sentence so the final emphasis is positive (e.g., “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m snowed under at work” might be less effective than “I’m snowed under at work, but thanks for thinking of me”).
The Rule of 3. A general guideline used in speaking and writing that suggests ideas presented in “threes” are more palatable, interesting, or impactful. (e.g., “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” … "Bigger, Better, Stronger.")
Chunking. Taking individual pieces of information (chunks) and grouping them into larger units in order to make things more manageable / easier to understand.
Active Listening. Making attempts in communication to ensure messages are clearly understood, often by the use of paraphrasing what the speaker has said or “reflecting” their argument back to them in your own words, checking that you have understood their position correctly.
Indian Talking Stick. Popularised by Stephen Covey, this is where one person holds a “talking stick” or similar prop device and continues to speak and partake in clarification until they feel the other person(s) in the room have fully understood their position (“to the speaker’s satisfaction”) before moving on.
Loaded Question. Also known as a trick question, typically this involves a question with an assumption or premise built into the statement designed to make the respondent look bad. (e.g., “When did you stop beating your wife?”)
Leading Question. Generally when the answer that the questioner is looking to confirm is supplied within the construction of the question. (e.g., “Wouldn’t you agree that the service was exemplary?”)
Open-ended vs. Closed-ended Questions. Open questions can be answered by a simple "yes" or "no," whereas open-ended questions require a more detailed response.
The Rolling Why. Involves asking “Why?” questions until the base assumption or the real reason behind a belief is reached.
The Magic Ratio. Credited to marriage expert Dr. John Gottman, and said to predict divorce with a high degree of accuracy, the magic ratio is 5:1 positive to negative interactions in relationships. (i.e. for a relationship to flourish, 5 positive interactions are needed to “cancel out” every negative interaction).
Emotional Bank Account. Popularised by Stephen Covey, this is a metaphor for imagining the state of social trust one has in a relationship and how present or future attempts at persuasion are likely to be influenced by whether the account is in a positive or negative position based on past “deposits” and “withdrawals.”
Munger’s Standard. “I never allow myself to hold an opinion on anything that I don't know the other side's argument better than they do.” ― Charlie Munger
Godwin's Law. The longer a discussion goes on, the higher the probability of encountering a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler.
The Paradox of Tolerance. Described by Karl Popper in 1945, this is the observation that “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”
Moral Equivalence. A fallacy that essentially involves claiming some moral action is “Just the same as…” when it isn’t, or “Not as bad as…” something else.
Whataboutism. Common in politics. Bringing up a separate issue that distracts from the issue at hand. (e.g., “What about your political party’s history of …?).
Weasel Words. Statements or phrases that give the impression that something meaningful has been said, when they are vague enough to allow the speaker to claim that they meant something else when challenged.
Definitional Clash. Operating on different understandings of a particular word or phrase, affecting how the broader argument is approached.
Talking Past Each Other. When one or both parties fail to address the issue at hand or the point of most relevance, though they may believe they are in fact talking about the same thing.
Libel vs. Slander. Libel and slander are types of defamation (damaging one’s reputation). Libel is an untrue defamatory statement made in writing. Slander is an untrue defamatory statement spoken orally.
Stacking the Deck. To arrange things (including sentence construction) so as to favour, or appear to favour, one position, side, or argument over another.
Bluffing. Pretending to be in a stronger position than is the case, or playing a weaker position as though it were stronger.
Calling One’s Bluff. Taking action based on the suspicion that someone is bluffing. This often involves having someone prove their position is real or show their claim is supported.
Doubling Down. Reinstating or providing greater support for a view already put forth, typically after being confronted with push back.
Sunk Cost Fallacy. The human tendency to invest more time, money, effort, etc. into something that should be abandoned simply because of the size of the investment already made.
Gaslighting. Wiki: “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory.”
Backfire Effect. The human tendency to strengthen one’s established beliefs or become even more polarised in the face of conflicting evidence or disagreement.
Cognitive Dissonance. The feeling of mental discomfort experienced when one’s beliefs, opinions, or behaviours are realised to be in conflict.
Halo Effect. The human tendency to draw an overall positive conclusion about someone’s character or competence based on an initial impression or inferred from a specific attribute, opinion, or element of their identity. (e.g., assuming someone is intelligent because they are good looking and well dressed.)
Confirmation Bias. Probably the most widely discussed human bias in decision making, this involves the human tendency to seek out and selectively pay attention to evidence that confirms what they already believe.
Cherry-Picking (Principle of Total Evidence). Where evidence relevant to the issue or argument is selectively included or ignored so that it does not reflect the total picture.
The Curse of Knowledge. A common human bias often noted in academic writing and highly technical fields, which suggests the more you know, the less clearly you communicate, because you will tend to assume that other people have the same knowledge and know the same words.
Illusion of Explanatory Depth. The general observation that people feel they understand complex topics at greater depth than they really do.
To be continued...