in: Advice, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: October 1, 2021

Podcast #639: Why You Should Learn the Lost Art of Rhetoric

For thousands of years, the study of rhetoric was a fundamental part of a man’s education. Though it ceased to be commonly taught in the 19th century, my guest today argues that it’s an art well worth reviving in the modern day.

His name is Jay Heinrichs, and he’s an expert in language and persuasion and the author of Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion. Jay and I begin our conversation with a description of what rhetoric is, why after being taught around the world for centuries it fell out of favor as a component of education, and why it’s still essential for everyone, especially leaders, to learn. We then unpack the difference between fighting and arguing, and how it’s the latter that’s a lost art, especially in our digital age. From there we discuss each of Aristotle’s three tools of rhetoric — ethos, pathos, and logos — including a dive into how the way your audience sees your character is so important, and how you can even do an ethos analysis of your resume. We then delve into Cicero’s five canons of rhetoric, and Jay shares a smart technique for memorizing a presentation, and thus delivering it more persuasively. We end our conversation with a fun game you can play to sharpen your rhetorical skills. 

If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.

Show Highlights

  • What is rhetoric?
  • The history of sophists and rhetorical studies 
  • Why did rhetoric stop being taught in school? What’s lost when we don’t teach rhetoric?
  • What’s the difference between a fight and an argument?
  • Can you have a constructive argument with someone who just wants to fight?
  • 3 primary things to know about your audience
  • Why tense matters so much — forensic (past), tribal (present), and deliberative/political (future)  
  • How to argue well with your significant other 
  • Aristotle’s “tools of character” 
  • How to connect with groups of people different from you 
  • Getting people in the mood to be persuaded 
  • What Homer Simpson can teach us about speaking 
  • Why logical fallacies aren’t always bad in persuasion 
  • Cicero’s Five Canons of Rhetoric 
  • The value of memorization when it comes to persuasion 
  • A rhetorical game to bone up on your skills 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Thank you for arguing by jay heinrichs, book cover.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For thousands of years, the study of rhetoric was a fundamental part of a man’s education. Though it ceased to be commonly taught in the 19th century, my guest today argues that it’s an art well worth reviving in the modern day. His name is Jay Heinrichs, and he’s an expert in language and persuasion and the author of “Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion.”

Jay and I begin our conversation with a description of what rhetoric is, why after being taught around the world for centuries it fell out of favor as a component of education, and why it’s still essential for everyone, especially leaders, to learn. We then unpack the difference between fighting and arguing and how it’s the latter that’s a lost art, especially in our digital age. From there we discuss each of Aristotle’s three tools of rhetoric, ethos, pathos, and logos, including a dive into how the way your audience see your character is so important and how you can even do an ethos analysis of your resume. We then delve into Cicero’s five canons of rhetoric, and Jay shares a smart technique for memorizing your presentation and thus delivering it more persuasively. And we end our conversation with a fun game you can play to sharpen your rhetorical skills. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at

All right, Jay Heinrichs, welcome to the show.

Jay Heinrichs: Thanks, Brett.

Brett McKay: So you are the author of a book called, “Thank You for Arguing,” it’s one of your books you’ve written, but you’re basically this… You’ve become this expert on rhetoric, and we’re gonna talk about what rhetoric is here. But how did you become an expert on rhetoric? Was it something you picked up in college, or did you discover this later on in life?

Jay Heinrichs: Definitely later on in life. I was about 30, I guess, and I was working at a college, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and I honestly got pretty bored in my job. I was wandering through the library in ridiculously long lunch hours, then one day while in the Dartmouth library, I was in this corner of the open stacks where there were cobwebs literally on the books and half the fluorescent bulbs had burned out. And a book for some reason caught my eye. It was about eye level, and I took it down and opened it up, and it had been signed by John Quincy Adams, President of the United States. Before he became president, while he was still a US Senator, he gave some lectures at Harvard and this book was a collection of his lectures. And in it, he introduced me to rhetoric, because that’s what his lectures were about.

And he was telling these teenage students, all boys, to catch from the relics of ancient oratory these unresisted powers that could control humanity, and I thought, I gotta get me some of those powers. And for the next dozen years, I did everything Adams told me to do. I read into rhetoric and interviewed rhetoricians around the world, and eventually I drove my wife so crazy she begged me to write this book, so I did.

Brett McKay: Oh, so let’s talk. What is rhetoric, and then let’s talk about the history of rhetoric. ‘Cause as you said, you found this book written by John Quincy Adams, it was a big part of the college curriculum for a lot of Americans in the 18th and 19th century, but, so, talk about what is rhetoric, the definition, and then the history of rhetoric in the West.

Jay Heinrichs: Rhetoric essentially is the art of persuasion. It’s the study of how words influence people, and so we’re talking about spoken rhetoric, written rhetoric, art can be rhetorical. Anything that moves people. And so originally, back in the day, let’s say 3000 years ago, it was invented as we study it today by these Greek itinerant teachers who just went from island to island in Greece teaching people how to speak well and persuade others. They called themselves Sophists, which means the wise ones. They were into really good branding back then, apparently. And so along comes the philosopher Aristotle, and apparently it’s his last book. He wrote the textbook on rhetoric, “The Art of Rhetoric,” which I spent years studying. And so Aristotle has been used for centuries ever since. Now, it was taught to boys and young men exclusively. So you had to be a member of an elite to study it. So originally you would learn grammar, how to speak proper Greek and later proper Latin, and then you would learn logic. And the last thing you would learn when you were old enough was rhetoric, which is considered to be the height of what was called the liberal arts, liberal meaning you didn’t have to work for anybody, you were a leader.

So that was taught more or less in any place where people had elections throughout history. And by the way, this isn’t just Greece and Rome. There’s good evidence that the ancient Jews studied rhetoric in schools. Chinese did too. There’s some evidence that rhetoric was taught in African civilizations and even in North American ancient civilizations. So this is anywhere anyone wants to persuade anybody else, rhetoric was apparently taught, up until sort of the late 1700s, when German universities came along. And they were very research-based, didn’t like the classics very much, very much into science. And they had this notion that the Americans picked up, which is that leaders really don’t count in history and that once you’ve set up really good institutions, then they should run themselves and people shouldn’t have to bother having to lead. And so that pretty much held sway right up until like the 1980s, 1990s in this country. I wrote the book thinking, I don’t know that that’s true.

That we don’t need decent leaders. We have our institutions, but if we have bad leaders heading them, those institutions don’t seem to go very well. That’s why I wrote the book. Now, I think this is the art of leadership, so really anybody who wants to be a leader should study it, but also anybody who doesn’t wanna be manipulated ought to study it as well, because rhetoric, essentially, being the art of persuasion, it’s a dark art. It can also be a tremendous art of manipulation, so studying it sort of inoculates you against that.

Brett McKay: All right, so the art of rhetoric is something that has been taught for thousands of years around the world, and you argue is so important for leadership, but then it stopped being formally taught around the early 1800s.

Jay Heinrichs: Now, one place where rhetoric continued to be studied all along were the historically black colleges. So after the Civil War, these colleges sprung up to teach black people, and among those colleges were Morehouse University and the Crozer Theological Seminar, among others. The reason I mention them was that one guy studied rhetoric at both those places, and that was Martin Luther King, which I think… It’s one example of the value of learning rhetoric.

Brett McKay: Well, at the beginning of the book, you talk about, there’s a difference between arguing and… Rhetoric is the art of arguing well, but also fighting. What do you think most people do today, and what’s the difference between arguing and fighting?

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, it’s funny, Brett. When I first told people I was writing a book on how to argue, their first… They all thought I was having a really late mid-life crisis, because who wants to learn about argument? And one of the first things I had to do, and this is why I did at the beginning of the book, was to talk about the distinction. So in an argument, your job is to win over somebody, to make them feel as if they somehow won at the end, won something, while you convince them of what you want them to believe or do. Fighting, on the other hand, is about simply winning, either scoring points or dominating another person. So an argument, what you hope for at the end is a consensus, where both of you agree on something. It doesn’t always happen, so sometimes it’s better just to… Your goal might be to walk away with a good relationship, but generally, if you wanna persuade someone, you want them to feel glad that they were persuaded. Fighting, on the other hand, is just a way to prove that you’ve dominated someone else. So fighting usually ends up with at least one person feeling lousy. An argument makes you feel good in the end, if it goes well. Fighting, the purpose of it is to make the other person feel terrible.

Brett McKay: So it seems like a lot of the Internet discussion, on Twitter or Facebook, it’s a lot of fighting and not too much arguing.

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, way too much. And you know what, a lot of what happens in social media in general is that you’re either preaching to your own choir… You have your own groups who are just looking to confirm their own opinion, or you wanna score points to show that you’re wittier than the other person or, I don’t know, just meaner. [chuckle] So I think a lot of what comes across as arguing in social media, Twitter in particular, really is more venting, people trying to just feel better for themselves by making other people feel terrible.

Brett McKay: And I think the reason why people default to fighting is because, again, as you said, we stopped teaching rhetoric in the schools. For the early part of American history, you started learning how to be persuasive, and not even in college, but like seven years old, but we don’t get that anymore. And so we just resort to just venting or emoting or just trolling and making people feel bad.

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, that’s well said. I think that one of the main purposes of a rhetorical education in the past was for people to learn what rhetoric was for, that it’s not just purely an art of manipulation, although it’s that too. It’s also this notion that the only way for people to make decisions in common is to persuade each other. The only alternative to that is violence or people saying violent things, threatening each other. The one way we’ve allowed civilization to really flourish throughout the world is this idea that people can get together and make decisions in common, and the only way to do that is through rhetoric. Our not teaching it is literally dangerous.

Brett McKay: Well, so let’s talk about… Let’s say someone buys into this idea, okay, I wanna be persuasive, I wanna have an argument where the goal is to persuade another person and everyone walks away feeling better about it. What do you do if you wanna do that but the person you’re engaging with just wants to fight? Is that even possible to have a persuasive rhetorical argument with that person?

Jay Heinrichs: Well, one of the most important things about rhetoric is to really know who your audience actually is. So it’s a little tough to talk about this during COVID, but eventually when all of us can get together again, one of the most important things to do is to look at who your audience really is. Is it the person you’re talking to, or is it the people around you? So I speak several times a week in video chats with high school classes that study my book, and one of the first things I tell them is, be the grownup in the room. You’re gonna win so many points that way. And a lot of people are gonna be convinced, all except the person who just wants to fight. So you may have some jerk who’s venting or saying stupid things or having a dumb opinion, and if you treat the other person kinda respectfully, don’t lose your temper, use some humor if that’s possible, and don’t lose your cool in general, then you’re going to be admired by the people who are listening in. And so who cares about the jerk?

Brett McKay: And what’s interesting about your book, the tips and the insights you’re getting about rhetoric, it’s thousands of years old. What Aristotle saw over 2000 years ago still works today. It’s still relevant. It works for social media, it works for a blog post, it works for a video conference call.

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, this is the thing. Because rhetoric was developed over centuries and centuries and existed for a long time before Aristotle even wrote about it, these are people who had a profound understanding of human nature, and human nature really hasn’t changed. Social media, our media in general, have changed, yeah, but people… Not so much. We evolved over 30,000 years before people even thought about studying rhetoric so our brains are what they are, and I think we have to go with that to understand that these people really, really did know what they’re talking about now, when I was studying rhetoric, I branched out, and that there’s lots of really good modern rhetoric, which is more about people’s sense of shared identity, which the Greeks weren’t quite so much into, but also I studied neuroscience, linguistics, Sociology, and there’s a lot of really good research, behavioral economics that confirm a lot of what the ancient Greeks and Romans, were talking about with rhetoric.

Brett McKay: So you mentioned you’ve gotta think about your audience when you’re thinking about rhetoric and you make the case… And I think Aristotle makes the case too. That there are three main goals a speaker can possibly have for his audience… What are those three main goals?

Jay Heinrichs: Well, they’re in ascending order of difficulty, so the easiest thing to do is to try to change someone’s mood. So one of the things to look at is, is the person you’re trying to persuade or the audience in general, are they in the mood to be persuaded in the first place, and if they’re not, can you change that mood? And so I go into behavioral economics on this, which has this concept called cognitive ease, which means if a person is relaxed, feeling in control, ideally smiling, then they’re more likely to be persuadable so that’s… Mood is one thing that’s the easiest thing to change in somebody, harder, is to change someone’s mind on a particular issue, even if it’s a family kind of thing, do we go to the mountains or the beach two summers from now when we all have vaccination, the third and hardest thing is to actually get someone to act or to stop acting. So you see all these concerts that are held to get young people to vote, rock the vote, that kind of thing.

But time after time, people will show up for the T-shirts or the concerts or whatever online now, and then not vote, so you could change their mind about wanting to vote or to vote for a particular person, but getting them actually to show up at the polls, that’s hardest of all, and so that takes a different set of tools. And they’re a lot harder to do. Now, often what happens is you start with the mood, you change the person’s mind and then you try to get them to do something or stop doing something. I would add a fourth goal, which is relationship. A lot of times we make the mistake, especially when someone’s confronting us and we get that fight or flight instinct to think we need to fight back, simply to fight or on the other hand, you may be upset or have a really strong opinion more often than not, maybe you ought to think about where to walk away having someone like you or to get along with somebody, think first about whether you can get along with the other person, and that may be your best goal of all.

Brett McKay: All right, so three possible goals for an audience, you can either change their mood, change their mind, get them to take action or to simply get along with them, which could help with all three of those other goals as well, and then Aristotle said that in any argument, there are three main possible issues that could be going on, and I think this is one of the most useful things I got out of the book, was this idea of the three types of issues, because oftentimes what I’ve discovered in the conversations or arguments or debates, I’ve gotten with people is that all of us are are arguing different issues, but we don’t know it.

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, that’s so true. So what he did was… What Aristotle did and I think this is really brilliant, is he organizes issues around tenses, past, present and future tense, and so the rhetoric of the past tense, when we use the past tense or what happened in the past. He called forensic rhetoric because it has to do with forensics, about crime and punishment, who done it and how should we punish them, then the present tense he called demonstrative rhetoric, it’s often called sermonic rhetoric, because it’s the language of shamans, it has to do with what’s good and what’s bad, and who’s good and who’s bad? Some people call it tribal rhetoric, and then Aristotle’s favorite had to do with the future, he called it deliberative rhetoric because it has to do with deliberating about choices, about what to do, how to solve problems together, and so deliberative rhetoric he actually called the rhetoric of politics. Now, politics today, I’m not sure we’re doing so well from Aristotle’s point of view. We talk in the past tense about what criminal acts our opponent has committed in the past, or we’re talking the present tense about bad people and who should be prosecuted or locked up, the future tense is the one where you actually can get something done and make a choice, so can I tell you just a quick story?

It’s in my book which you’ve read, [chuckle] but if I could tell it for the audience, some years ago, when my son, George was 15 years old, I was getting ready in the morning in the bathroom. It was mid-winter, it was cold, and I’d found that the tube of toothpaste had been squeezed dry, and so I shouted through the door, “George who used up all the toothpaste?” I figured he was the culprit because he’s a teenage son, and I hear this sarcastic voice on the other side saying, “That’s not the point, is it dad, the point is, how are we going to keep this from happening again?” Now, I was kind of pleased about that actually, because for years, I had told them the best way to get out of trouble is to switch the tense to the future, who used up all the toothpaste? How are we going to solve this problem? Now, I was so pleased that he’d actually been listening to me over all those years, I decided to let him win, so I said, “All right, George, you win, now will you please get me toothpaste,” so to this day, he says he won the argument because I said so on the other hand, I got a teenager to run an errand willingly, and he went down to our freezing basement and I got a tube, of toothpaste.

Now, what he did was he switched to solving a problem from being blamed. What I did was let him win, so that’s the ultimate consensus. Now, what if I had used the present tense, what Aristotle called demonstrative rhetoric? Then I would have said something like, “George, a good son wouldn’t use up all the toothpaste.” And you can imagine how fast I would gotten a tube of toothpaste. He would have been very defensive, and that’s often the problem when we use the wrong topic, speak in the wrong tense, when we have a confrontation or an argument with somebody.

Brett McKay: I think that’s useful, ’cause a lot of just, even interpersonal arguments you have with a spouse, your kids, we tend to get hung up on the blame, the past tense or the present tense, and you’re always wondering, why can’t we just move forward and… To me, the idea that Aristotle would say, well, move things to the future and you might start making some headway.

Jay Heinrichs: Right, pivot. Pivot to how to solve the problem and what the result will be in the long run.

Brett McKay: Yeah, and I think it’s good insight. So if you find yourself in an argument that’s not going anywhere, pay attention to how people are speaking. Are they using the past tense and the present tense? ‘Cause if they are, that’s probably why you guys are stuck in blaming and talking about values, and you might not make any headway there. So a pivot, what do you do… So you gave an example of what a pivot would look like there, but what do you do when someone doesn’t wanna pivot? Say you wanna make the pivot, “What can we do about it?” And then the person says, “Well, no, no, I’m not done, I wanna assign blame. We wanna figure out what’s wrong here, who did what.” Can you make any progress with that, or do you have to use some other rhetorical tools to keep moving forward?

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, there’s this great study that was done over years by this guy named John Gottman at the University of Wisconsin. He ran something that became known as the Love Lab, because they brought in all these married couples and they videotaped how they argued with one another. And what was really interesting, and they did this, as I say, over years, and then these poor grad students had to view these tapes and log them, of how these people talked. And then they tracked the couples, by the way, over time. So the couples who ended up getting divorced and the couples that stayed together actually argued the same amount of time. They disagreed and spoke about it the same amount of time and with the same frequency. The difference was, the couples that got divorced used their arguments as a way to prove the other person was a jerk. They spoke in terms of demonstrative rhetoric, so, this just proves you’re not a good husband or you’re not a good wife, because you left the toilet seat up or whatever. Whereas the other couples would say, “This is a problem with the toilet seat up. What are we gonna do about it?” And they could both get heated, but at the same time, one went for a solution and the other wanted to prove they were superior to the other person.

So what do you do about that, that kind of thing? How do you turn it so that the relationship survives? Maybe that’s your first goal. So you can say, if you’re the one who’s being blamed in the past tense or being called a name to show what an idiot you are or how lame you are, the best thing to do is to say, “Yeah, you can call me this, but that’s not gonna solve our problem here.” Basically, all you have to do is say, “That’s not gonna solve our problem. Let’s talk about how we’re gonna do that.” Now, often what happens, though, is that you have to go back to what your goal is and say to yourself, is this person so angry she won’t listen to me? Should I be changing the mood a little bit? And to do that, you have to really acknowledge that the other person feels bad. And so what men are bad at is apologies, and that may have to come before anything else.

Brett McKay: Well, it sounds to me… Again, it sounds like you might have to concede, like, “Okay, let’s just say I’m a jerk,” and that’s hard for people to do because it’s like, “Well, I’m not a jerk, I don’t think I’m a jerk.” But Aristotle would say sometimes you’ve gotta make a concession to achieve that higher goal of moving forward and causing the change.

Jay Heinrichs: Well, a lot has to do with whether you actually are at fault. So suppose you did do something thoughtless. One of the things to do is not just say you’re sorry. When you say it, by the way, look as sincere as you can. But what you should also do is to say, “You know what? I wanna do right. You know I’m the kind of person who really believes in doing the right thing,” whatever that is. And then say, “Let’s talk about how this isn’t gonna happen in the future.” And that’s… Obviously if something happened that’s really serious and upsetting. Now, suppose, though, you’re innocent, then you can say, “Look, call me whatever name you want, but let’s talk about how you and I are gonna get along together and sustain a relationship.” Use the kinds of terms that might appeal to this other person, and work on the relationship alone. There may not be a problem to solve. If there’s a problem to solve, switch to the future. If not, think about the relationship.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. So try to switch to the future, ’cause… Give people a choice. People like thinking about choice. Choice makes people feel good, feels like they have a sense of autonomy, and that’s where problems can actually be solved. So another thing Aristotle said that I think is still relevant today, still works, is that there are basically three primary, we can call them tools of rhetoric. There’s ethos, pathos, and logos. So can you walk us through each one sort of big picture and how Aristotle saw that they’d fit together?

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, really important. So ethos is your character as your audience sees it. It’s what they think of you, so whether they like or trust you. Pathos has to do with mood, what mood the audience is in and what tools you can use to change that and to use it to your advantage. And then there’s logos, which has to do… It’s often translated as logic, but it’s a little bit more than that. Now, each one of these tools all has to do with the audience itself. So logos, logic, really isn’t about facts necessarily. Research shows consistently that if you throw facts at people, they’re likely to just get more entrenched in their own opinion.

Pure logic and reciting facts, don’t work all that well. Instead, look at the beliefs and expectations of your audience, not what the facts are, but what does your audience believe, and think about how to use that. Pathos has to do, as I say, with the audience’s mood. Ethos has to do with not who you are so much as what your audience thinks you are, and you might be able to change that as well. Now, Aristotle invented logic, and yet he said… And he just sounded so sad when he wrote this, [chuckle] that logic is not the most persuasive of those three tools. He said that ethos is. Whether someone likes and trust you is much more important in determining whether they’ll follow you. So, if you are someone your audience thinks is one of the tribe, maybe a slightly improved version of it, like a leader, then they’re much more likely to be persuaded by you than any kind of logic you’re gonna use on them.

Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about ethos in particular and detail here. So Aristotle thought, in order to have ethos, your character, you had to develop rhetorical virtue. And again, Aristotle wrote a whole whole book about virtue ethics, the Nicomachean Ethics, and it sounds like he took that idea and integrated into his idea of rhetoric. But it sounds like he has an idea of… It’s almost like rhetorical virtue. So for Aristotle, what does rhetorical virtue look like and how do you develop it?

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, there are three basic… He devised… The Greeks were crazy about rules of three. So, there are three tools of ethos, and probably, the most powerful of them all, is virtue. Now, it’s very different from what he described in the Nicomachean Ethics. Rhetorical ethos, as you hinted, really has more to do with the audience’s values and whether the audience thinks you uphold those values. He used this sentence that took me years to try to understand, and I think I’m kinda getting it. He said that virtue is a matter of character, it’s your expressed character, what the audience thinks of you, dealing with choice. So, it’s how your character influences the choices you make, lying in a mean. And I think what he meant by that is, the choices your audience sees you make, not just for the moment, but throughout your life, should fall between something that’s completely reckless and something that’s too cautious.

And at the same time, should also fall right smack in the middle of the values of your audience, right there in the dead center. Now, that’s the most important kind of expression of character. Now, the other two tools are worth mentioning, which is whether the audience thinks you know what you’re doing. If you come up with a solution, a choice, does the audience believe that you know what you’re talking about, that you can solve this problem? And then, the third is whether the audience thinks that you have their best interest at heart. Are you disinterested? Which means that you don’t represent any special interests, including your own. I break this down into labels of cause, craft and caring. Cause is virtue, whether you uphold these values of your audience. Craft has to do with whether you know your stuff. And caring is whether you have the audience’s interest in heart, even to the point of maybe sacrificing yourself for the greater good. Those are the tools of character that Aristotle defined.

Brett McKay: Well, it sounds like… Okay, let’s make this do some practical application here. If you are in your business or an office, you can develop these things, these three things, over time. You can show your competence to your co-workers, to your boss, you can show that you’re disinterested, that you put the company before your own interest, you can show to your co-workers and your boss that you have the virtue or the values of the organization. And then, whenever you need to be persuasive, you have that going for you. But again, it’s a long-term thing you develop, kinda get that street cred. What do you do if you’re just plopped in front of an audience and they know hardly anything about you, and yet you need to develop that ethos on the fly? Did Aristotle have any insights on that?

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, and the Romans did too, the ancient Romans did as well. They developed it more, really. One of the things the Romans came up with is this idea of decorum. We think that decorum is like manners, but it really comes from the Latin word meaning fitness, as in fitting in, as in your ability to fit into your environment, including an office. And so, the clothing you wear, is an expression of your character, or what people see your character as being. I was a manager for some years, and was constantly being visited… And by the way, I managed creatives, who dressed in all kinds of ways. And I was often visited by human resources to tell me that some employee or another was dressing inappropriately. Well, for the team the person was working with, that person may have been entirely appropriate, it just didn’t look good to the corporate types. So, decorum changes according to who your audience is, and that’s probably the easiest thing. Now, the tone you use, the words you use… In some cases, you can use four-letter words in a particular office setting. In other places, that’s probably not such a good idea. One of the most important things to do before you enter into any new situation, even if it’s just to give a talk in front of an audience, or harder, take a new job, is to understand who your audience is. Do a little bit of homework before you do that, that’s hugely important. So, decorum is sort of instant ethos.

Brett McKay: Well, it sounds like… We see politicians do this. When we had state fairs, about this time, they would go to Iowa or something, they’d be like, “Oh, my grandpa is from Iowa,” and they would try to make that connection. And they were basically doing ethos on the fly, with their audience.

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, in fact, one of the problems that Hillary Clinton had when she was running in the last presidential election was that… I don’t know whether she did this consciously or not, I bet she didn’t. But when she was speaking in front of a Southern audience, she would change her accent. And the problem with that is, if it was just the audience, that might have been fine, but she’s a Presidential candidate, so her audience was the nation, who would hear her change her accent and think she was being kind of phony, doing that. So, you have to be careful. One of the things that older people, one of the sins they commit, is to try to fit in too much with a younger audience. Or what if they’re speaking to people of a different ethnicity or race, trying to imitate that speech can be a huge problem. It’s much better to sort of use a decorum that represents the other people’s values, not so much just their behavior. And that’s hard to do, that takes some practice.

Brett McKay: You know who was good at it? It was Teddy Roosevelt, what I’ve read from him. Yeah, so he’s this, you know, from New York, he was basically an aristocrat, and he talked like in a New York aristocratic kind of squealy voice. But somehow he was able to get cowboys and like lumberjacks and hunters, like, they loved the guy. And he didn’t try to pander so much, but they just they saw his behavior, sort of his attitude. And they’re like, “Hey, he’s one of us,” even though he might really wasn’t one of them.

Jay Heinrichs: Oh that you could not… I’m gonna use that example, you could not have come up with a better example of decorum because, you know, for one thing, half of those ranchers, Teddy could have kicked their butt. You know, he was famous for leading people on these hikes where he would just exhaust everybody, and he could stay up night after night, he could sleep on bare ground. And, he could be with some pretty tough characters, and they would appreciate him for that, he shared their values. So he didn’t… He could wear his Pince-Nez eyeglasses and speak funny. But that didn’t matter to the people because he shared their values, that was more important than his behavior.

Brett McKay: So ethos character you want to connect with the audience. And that’s something you might have to, you can do on the fly by with looking at the Romans, looking at your… How you’re presenting yourself with your clothing, the way you talk, mannerisms, things like that. But then it seems like I mean, the big takeaway I got from that is like, really to develop that ethos, the most effective ethos is like that long game ethos, where you do all these things that Aristotle talks about so that you can be persuasive when you need to be persuasive.

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, it’s easier for us modern Americans than it was back for the ancient Greeks and Romans because they believed your ethos came from your ancestors. So if you had lame ancestors, you were screwed. But you know, for us, it really is almost a lifetime thing or at least a career-long thing. I mean, if you look at modern politics, it’s really interesting that any presidential candidate right now you’re looking at their whole history being laid out in front of everybody. And that’s their ethos. In an office, you know, the average person stays in a job, what, two years, that’s your time for developing your ethos. Now, by the way, another way to register your ethos is through a resume, which these days is more and more automated, of course, because you’ve got these scanning machines, reading it, and interpreting it, so you have to have certain keywords. That being said, sooner or later, somebody might actually read your resume. And I encourage people to do kind of an ethos analysis, are you showing you really know how to do the job that you’re the ideally situated in terms of skill set?

Do you have a particular cause? Are you passionate about something that’s related to the job? And then thirdly, are you willing to do what it takes? Like you’re not someone who’s first question is going to be what’s the salary? And what are the benefits and how long is vacation. So again, that’s, cause, caring, and craft. If you can make sure your resume reflects that, that’s your ethos on paper.

Brett McKay: And I was gonna say, you also think about how you present yourself online. Because you know, as you said, it used to be like you didn’t have… You don’t have to worry about what you did when you’re a teenager. Now you do, because people when you’re 20, 30, if you posted something on Facebook, or Instagram, when you’re a kid that was stupid, that might come back and haunt your ethos.

Jay Heinrichs: Oh, boy, is that true, and we see it all the time. You know, one of the things that I tell, especially young people who are on social media all the time, think of your audience, it’s bigger than you know. And it also lasts forever. So you have to think you’re thinking about two or three people when you post that hilarious picture of you at a party. But now think this could be seen by tens of thousands, millions, potentially people. And it could be seen by millions of people 30 years from now. You know, think in terms of your audience expanding into eternity. And then think about whether it’s a good idea to post that picture. One of the people and we’re primed for this, we evolved in very small groups of humans. I mean, the largest groups of humans generally, these bands that existed for the first 30,000 years after humans had really fully developed and were speaking, you know, sophisticated languages, were, the biggest bands we were with was 30 people. And to this day, most people really see their entire group as no more than 30 people. And the problem is social media doesn’t work that way. So you’re thinking, you know, your posting for 30 people, you’re not, your audience is much larger and much more accidental.

Brett McKay: Alright, so we talked about ethos, it’s your character, and that can be something that… A tool used to persuade people. Let’s talk about pathos or emotion. What did Aristotle… How can you can use pathos to persuade an audience?

Jay Heinrichs: Well, you know, one of the things that I go with in terms of pathos because honestly, Aristotle was kind of a stiff, [chuckle] at least he reads that way. And so he wasn’t as good at pathos as the later rhetoricians, and then later neuroscientists. And so I tend to look at modern research to see how emotion really works. And the tool I keep going back to I mentioned earlier, which is cognitive ease. I’m interested in making people persuadable, like putting them in the mood so that they’re willing to be persuaded. And it’s amazing how many salespeople do this instinctively, in making you comfortable, I think it helps to be an extrovert. But for those of us who are not we have to sort of learn those tools. And there are, some of them sound really silly, one being if you wanna convince someone, don’t sit higher than they do.

Sit lower if anything or at least at their own level. Don’t speak louder than they do. Don’t interrupt them. When they say something, pause before you answer because it sounds like you’re taking their words very seriously. If you can get them to smile, that’s really important. So this really great researcher, Daniel Kahneman who wrote what’s now a best-selling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow defined two sort of systems in the brain, the Homer Simpson System 1 is where you are easily persuadable. You’re not thinking that hard. Your brain is kind of on auto-pilot. You’re relaxed and feeling in control. System 2 is the Thinker. That’s the system you were in when you took a math test back in the day, when you’re frowning, your face is screwed up and you’re thinking really hard. Now, we’ve evolved to use as little energy in our brains as possible because it’s amazing how much when we’re thinking hard, how much glycogen we use up. That’s why you can be literally tired after doing a really difficult project that involves a lot of thinking. What you want is that Homer Simpson state in your audience. How do you get that?

Well, you make them feel relaxed and in control, ideally smiling, not with their face screwed up. When you see these expressions by the way, you know you’re kind of in trouble and you need to start thinking about that mood again. So there were other kinds of moods, a very important one being anger. And one way to deal with anger is pretty much deal with cognitive ease again like make sure to speak calmly, keep yourself in control, acknowledge the other person’s emotion. All the stuff that psychologists tell you to do actually turns out to be pretty true when it comes to pathos. So ultimately though, your goal is the relationship and persuading them somehow. So putting them in a mood to like you and be persuaded by them, that’s what mood is all about. That’s pathos.

Brett McKay: And I think well the thing with pathos, I think some people feel squidgy about it ’cause it’s dealing with emotions and there’s all these tactics that we can use to manipulate emotions. How can you use pathos without seeming like you’re either emotionally manipulative or like a demagogue? You’re calling… You’re using anger. You’re using the sense of belonging, patriotism, othering to persuade people to action and manipulate them.

Jay Heinrichs: Well, the best rhetoric disguises itself. This is true. If somebody thinks they’re being manipulated, they’re gonna go right into that System 2, math-taking state. And so you wanna avoid that obviously. So you wanna sound sincere. That’s the most important thing here in terms of expressing any kind of mood. Now, a very effective mood to get somebody to stop doing something is fear. Now, the problem with using fear, which is to talk about what the future is gonna look like if you make this decision or continue on this path is that it actually tends to freeze people up. So if you wanna change someone’s mind, the last thing you do is put them in a fearful state because they won’t make up their mind about anything. They’ll just run away or they’ll fight, fight or flight. Now, in general, the best way to conduct a deliberative argument about what choices to make for the future is to try to bring the mood down, like turn down the volume and you can do that through your own voice control, through nodding your head and acknowledging what the other person is saying, by appearing to be non-confrontational. I call this a tool called agreeability, which is the ability to look like you’re not actually arguing when you really are. And one way to do that is to nod with the other person and then just gradually kinda reframe what they’re talking about, agree sort of and then change the terms of the debate a little bit. You take the mood out and that may be your best tool.

Brett McKay: Alright, so that’s interesting. Taking mood out is a way to use pathos to actually be more persuasive. So let’s talk about the last one, logos, which is translated as logic, but you make this point that for Aristotle and the Romans, rhetorical logic is different from what we typically think of as logic is facts or if this, then B. It’s not analytical logic so what’s the difference between rhetorical logic and what we typically think of as logic?

Jay Heinrichs: Well, we can talk about the really logical part of logos that as Aristotle defined it. He came up with this tool called the enthymeme. Some people who study logic, formal logic, learned the syllogism that has the three lines that drive everybody crazy. He came up with two lines and basically it comes down to this. It comes down to your claim, what you want the audience to believe and then the proof. So, “We should go to the lake because it’s nicer there.” That’s not a great argument, [chuckle] but it’s a perfect syllogism. “We should go to the lake.” That’s the opinion I want you to have, “because… ” And then you give evidence like what’s your reason. And so the enthymeme is like this one-two-punch of logic. And it’s something to always to think about because a lot of people sort of leave out the second part, “We should go to the lake.” And then you sound really whiny and you don’t actually give a reason. A great way to structure your argument is to think in terms of what’s my claim and what’s my proof and is the proof connected to the claim. A great BS detector, by the way, is to use that same technique. Is there a claim… Is somebody making a claim here? Do they want me to believe something and does the proof lead to the claim? Does it prove the claim?

And so that’s the enthymeme. Now, another thing that’s important though about Aristotle’s version of rhetorical logic is that it’s not so much about facts, I mentioned this before, but about what the audience believe. So, “We should go to the lake because,” you can say, “because the lake is 20% cheaper than going to the mountain.” Well, that only works if the other person believes that that’s a very important criterion for choosing a vacation. You may wanna come up with another proof based on what they really want like, “You love water sports. You can’t do that in the mountain.” Let’s go to the lake instead or to the beach or whatever. So logos has to do with your proof in your claim, with your proof having to do with what the audience believes or what it expects will happen.

Brett McKay: And also you talk about how… When people think about logic, they often… They wanna go to fallacies like logical fallacies, and like point out, hey, this right here, this is a strawman argument or whatever, and you are, you… In rhetoric… You really don’t wanna… Sometimes you use fallacies to be persuasive with logos.

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, and rhetoric, if it works, that’s good rhetoric. [laughter] So, and on the other hand, you know, rule number one in rhetoric is don’t be a jerk, like your ethos should not get out of control, and one way to be a jerk is to point out other people’s fallacies. Like that’s just fighting, that’s not arguing. Now, you can use… Some fallacies work absolutely great on audiences who are not very well trained in logic at all, and so one of the things about rhetoric is… The ethics are really kinda up to you, but rhetoric will work for evil as well as it will work for good.

Brett McKay: And this is why, so this idea of logos, rhetorical logic, this is why Socrates wasn’t a fan of Sophist ’cause he took part in dialectic where his goal with the discussion with somebody, was like, we’re gonna find out with logic what is true. And people who are dealing with rhetoric, they’re not so much concerned about… I mean, they are concerned about truth, but their main goal is persuasion.

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah. Well you know, the irony of Plato who, you know, essentially was Socrates ghostwriter and maybe inventor for all we know, is that he wrote a couple of dialogues against rhetoric using every rhetorical trick in the book. [laughter] So… I mean, he was officially against rhetoric, but he was happy to use it.

Brett McKay: Yeah. He was fighting fire with fire. So, yeah… This is like Aristotle and the Roman’s big idea of like so… Think about your audience, their goals, the use of tenses, and to figure out what the issue of an argument is, and these like pathos, ethos, logos. If you think about those things, that can really help you to start talking and making arguments, but then also, a thing that’s really useful from classical rhetoric and that’s still useful today. It came from a Roman who was Cicero and he had this idea of the five canons of rhetoric. What is that… And how can that help people be more persuasive?

Jay Heinrichs: Well, you know, it’s really good if you’re making a presentation or shooting a video or something like that, and how much you use it is really… It appeals to some people and not so much to others. So, he came up with these canons, invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery. Thank goodness I could think of all that.

Invention has to do with… It’s interesting, invention in the Latin for inventions is inventio, which is where we get the term obviously. But it doesn’t just mean making stuff up, it also… Inventio also means discovery. So one of the things you do before you start any kind of presentation or speech or whatever, is to not just come up with your thoughts, but also do your homework. So, inventio has to do with discovering the best means of persuasion, that’s Aristotle’s term, but Cicero quoted him. So arrangement then has to do with how your thoughts are gonna be arranged. What order you put it in, and Cicero came up with a kinda nice outline that works for any kind of speech. We can get to that in a minute if you want, but we can move on to the other canons. Invention, arrangement, style has to do with whether you’re using terms that are suitable to the audience, that’s where your decorum fits in, but also it has to do with how vivid you are, your expressions are, whether you’re getting your audience to pay attention through the… Either the beauty or the strength of your language.

Memory is really interesting, that’s the fourth canon. It has to do with your ability to deliver a speech without looking at your notes, and the ancients were big about memorizing things. It’s one of the things that kids were taught. One of the things they did was… Some people have heard of the memory palace, which is where you invent this kind of building in your head and you fill it with things that remind you of what you need to know. Well the ancient Romans in particular, starting at like age 12, would create these memory palaces that were more like shopping malls. I think, like all at one level, but they would have these rooms that they would fill with symbols they would remember, and because these were adolescent boys who were learning these, a lot of these symbols would be pornographic, they definitely remember them. So instead of memorizing a speech, they would think of a route to take through their memory palace, picking up these expressions, quotations, you know, tropes… Whatever would work, and then what would happen in the middle of a debate, they wouldn’t be thrown off course, they would simply reroute their path through this memory palace. And so, memory for them was really like a life-long development. Now, one of the ways I talk about memory… Sorry, I’m stuck on this, but I just can’t help it ’cause it’s so much fun.

I tell people if they’re doing a presentation on… Go ahead and use PowerPoint or Keynote, or whatever. Whether you’re showing slides or not, create the slides, put notes on them and then print out the slides with your notes of what you’re gonna say. Then arrange them the way you want, that’s arrangement, you know, slide by slide. So, print out each one of these things, it may be… Is like separate pages. You’re willing to use the paper. Then print it out again, only this time without your notes, after you’ve read it a million times, and see if the pictures themselves can trigger what you say. And just go through that a bunch of times, and what you’re doing is you’re enforcing different parts of your brain to remember what you wanna say, and then, you know, if you can, see if you can go and deliver this talk without the slides or the notes, and people will love it because it’s such a rare commodity these days. Last of all is delivery or in Latin actio, which means action as well as acting, and that is how well you can deliver this talk and that’s why I dwell so long on memory, because memory has a lot to do with it.

I hear young people all the time giving talks, you know, and video or whatever. When they’re reading something, the kids who get the straight As, would read a mile a minute. They associate really good speed with how fast they can go, and you know for a geezer like me, I can’t understand a word of it. And it also is just not very authentic-sounding when they do it. So one of the ways to deliver to a modern audience, especially if you’re using something like a teleprompter, is slow down and sound sincere at the same time. That’s delivery. So invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery are the five canons.

Brett McKay: I think that’s great. Again, thousands of years old, it still works. If you have to give a TED talk, this is gonna work for you.

Jay Heinrichs: Absolutely. And I can’t stress this enough, people don’t learn enough how to speak sounding authentic in a video or, I don’t know, podcast. How to sound like you’re being yourself while at the same time, you may have notes in front of you.

Brett McKay: And that takes practice. It doesn’t just… I think we have this idea of authenticity that it just… You’ll rise to the occasion and it will just… Whatever naturally comes out of you will be, that’s what you need to do. But no, actually, the good people who are good at rhetoric, good at speaking, they practice over and over again to hone in on how they present themselves.

Jay Heinrichs: Oh, that’s so true. And this stuff is really hard. I try to get better at it every year.

Brett McKay: So your book… What I love about your book, it’s so comprehensive. We talked about the big picture… I’m hoping people have a big picture idea of what is involved with rhetoric, but in your book, you go into details of little tools you can use to even be more persuasive… And one of the more useful… Everything was useful, but one of the things I thought was really useful, at the end of the book, you provide games that people can use on a daily basis to fine-tune the rhetorical ability. Is there one or two that you think are… That are, it’s a lot of fun but also really useful for someone who wants to start improving their rhetoric game today?

Jay Heinrichs: I’ll tell you one that is hugely popular, or was back when I could speak in front of live audiences. [chuckle] I would call someone from the audience, and you could do this at home, it’s really easy. It’s called the dice game, and I have… You can make this up yourself or you could simply go to my website Thank You for Arguing and you’ll find it there. What you do is, there are five types of audiences that could be single people. A priest or a nun could be one, a firefighter could be another, a college professor could be another, and so on. And then the other side is stuff you wanna sell them, so, which would be, a ball of twine, say, or a baby goat, or… [chuckle] You could make stuff up. So on the one column is particular kinds of people, on the other column is the stuff you wanna sell them. So roll two dice and the first die is the audience and the second die is what you wanna sell them, whatever the product is.

People give the most unexpected kinds of presentations with this. I will call up people from the audience, and generally it’s people who are goaded by the friends who wanna embarrass them. They get up on stage and they give the most amazing persuasion, and it’s absolutely hilarious. Like, a resentful teenager is, I think, one that’s listed in ArgueLab, and sometimes you will get somebody coming up and trying to sell a baby goat to a resentful teenager, and using the most amazing argument you can imagine. It’s super fun, but it also really helps people understand what argument and persuasion in particular is all about.

Brett McKay: All right, so you mentioned your website, Thank You for Arguing. Anywhere else people can go to learn more about your work and the book?

Jay Heinrichs: Yeah, the most useful website… I have really too many, I’m bad at this, but the one I put the most effort into because I originally developed it for students is, argue as in ArgueLab, all one word, dot com. And that’s where you’ll find the exercises and stuff like that. Otherwise I’m #jayheinrichs at all the fine social media places.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Jay Heinrichs, thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

Jay Heinrichs: Brett, this is so good. You ask the best questions.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Jay Heinrichs, he’s the author of the book “Thank you for Arguing.” It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about his work and the book at his website Also check out our show notes at, where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM Podcast. Check out our website at, where you can find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles we’ve written over the years. And if you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the AOM Podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to, sign up, use code MANLINESS at the checkout for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS, and you can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AOM Podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I would appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher, it helps out a lot, and if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you not only to listen to the AOM Podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.

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