Competitive Communication: A Rhetoric for Modern Business

By Barry Eckhouse | Go to book overview

3
CLASSICAL ARGUMENT AND MODERN BUSINESS

Now, previous compilers of "Arts" of rhetoric have provided us with only a small portion of this art, for proofs are the only things in it that come within the province of art; everything else is merely an accessory. And yet they say nothing about enthymemes which are the body of proof, but chiefly devote their attention to matters outside the subject; for the arousing of prejudice, compassion, anger, and similar emotions has no connection with the matter in hand. . . .

-- Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric

Modern business is typically an argumentative practice, in the best sense of the word, when people attempt to persuade by giving and assessing reasons. 1 It is an openly competitive activity, in which working professionals debate issues, defend positions, and evaluate the arguments of others. Because of this, we should not be surprised to find that written and oral communication in business, particularly when practiced at the middle and upper levels, is characterized less by a need to inform and more by an obligation to argue. 2

This obligation to argue is one that many in business already acknowledge through much of their daily communication: it is present any time listeners or readers resist because they are intellectually competitive, because they have a competing point of view and are prepared to argue for it. For writers, these readers represent a distinct challenge. Not only will they expect writing that is well organized, they will demand of it reasons that are compelling enough to overcome their own competing point of view.

This does not mean that competition with readers will result in an unpleasant and uncooperative exchange, though argument is often thought of in just this negative way. Quite the opposite. As G. K. Chesterton once wisely said, "People generally quarrel because they cannot argue." As Chesterton suggests, argument offers an opportunity to avoid quarreling. As such, argument may be seen not as an impediment to cooperative interaction, but as a vehicle for promoting it. Understood in this way, argument will acquire a paradoxical character, one that is critically important to un-

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