September 7, 2012

Understanding Political Rhetoric

Now that the political conventions are over get ready for an onslaught of political rhetoric.  If we're not prepared to interpret it, we might get caught in the maelstrom.  Or you can hide in a hole until after election day.

I teach rhetoric in many of my training classes because it's the basis of communication.  It surprises me how few people understand rhetoric, much less know how to pronounce the word.  Those who at least recall hearing the term, recall news anchors referring to the rhetoric of the White House or the rhetoric of the GOP.  Because of its use regarding politics, I've found that most people assume rhetoric is negative.

Rhetoric is neither negative or positive.  It's how we use rhetoric that determines it's polarity.

Rooted in ancient Greece's Senate, rhetoric stems from the philosophers' efforts to determine what makes communication effective.  Even two thousand years later, the foundations of effective communication haven't changed.  In ancient Greece, if you had an issue to bring before the Senate, you had to convince a Senator to represent you.  The success of your case depended on the Senator's ability to speak convincingly.  (Sound familiar?)  Aristotle referred to this as the art of persuasion and labeled it "rhetoric."

A reference to someone's rhetoric refers to the methods they employ to persuade people to a certain point.  Since we often see politics as negative, we assume the negative connotation, but all communication stems from rhetoric.

Think about the reasons we communicate:  to inform, to request, to teach, to sell, to socialize.  In each of these areas, we use persuasion.

If I'm giving you information, I want you to accept, and possibly, apply the information.  How do I do that?  By using examples and language that I hope you will accept.  If I want to make a request of someone, I need to persuade them to say yes.  Teachers must persuade students to accept their knowledge as valid and to listen and learn from it.  I hope we all see the obvious angle of persuasion in selling.

But what about socializing?  We still want our friends to like and listen to us.  In order to achieve this, we talk about subjects they find interesting or provide them with information about events we know they will enjoy.

All of this requires persuasion.

Why does this matter?  Because rhetoric will be employed by the Democrats, Republicans, and any other parties that choose to make their voices heard during this election.  Recognizing their rhetoric might help you weed out the excess and drill down to the truth. For those of us who don't follow politics as closely, that might be harder to do.  Rest assured, they are counting on what we don't know in order to spin us to their point of view.

That's a basic definition of rhetoric.  Of course, there's more to it.  Next time, I'll explain the elements of rhetoric and how we develop our persuasive strategy.  If you don't believe we do this everyday, watch a toddler next time they want something.  They KNOW how to use rhetoric.!

3 comments:

Valerie Keiser Norris said...

Thanks for the information. Very helpful.

Sheila Good said...

Excellent post! Thanks for a common sense approach to a touchy topic!

Barbara V. Evers said...

Sheila, glad you enjoyed it!