Rhetorical Approach to Dealing with Criticism


Have you ever been criticized? Of course you have. Everyone has been criticized at some point. In particular, though, have you ever been criticized for trying something new? Let’s say that you go ahead and do what you want—and it doesn’t work out. You can certainly expect more criticism. 

Fortunately, you can use rhetorical strategies in both cases. One strategy is for getting support to do something new, and the second strategy is for damage control when things don’t go as expected.

First Strategy: Accuse your critics as being the opponents of something good. 

You have a new idea or new information to share with your readers. You want to propose a new plan, program, or process. You want to change how things are done now. You will receive criticism. That’s life. 

How do you deal with criticism and increase the potential that your readers will agree with you and not your critics? One strategy is to predict and counter the critics’ arguments. Another way is simply to disparage, or criticize, your critics. Your criticism doesn’t even have to be true; it only has to be true from your perspective. (Note: This is a common strategy employed by politicians.) Let me give you a recent example of this. 

The president wants to change the government’s role in health care, and he is encountering a great deal of resistance. He has a new way to do things, and other people don’t agree. Sound familiar? 

Instead of countering his opponents’ arguments and discussing the advantages of his plan and the faults with their ideas, he is criticizing his opponents. Instead of saying “My plan is better because…” and “Their ideas are wrong because…” he is saying, “They are opponents of reform.” 

To state this strategy in plain terms, attack your opponents by stating that they are against something good (e.g., reform). 

By putting the focus on your critics, you shift focus away from the merits of your ideas. When you tell people that your critics are opposed to something good, you imply that they are for something bad. Most people want to be for something good. When they see the argument not from the basis of facts and logic but as a choice between doing something good versus doing something bad, they will want to be on the side of good. And, as you have instructed them, being on the side of good means rejecting your critics and agreeing with you. 

Second Strategy: Replace negative descriptors with positive actions. 

I remember the old adage “There are two sides to every story.” One interpretation of this adage is that every story can be told in more than one way, and this has implications for writing. Events, facts, ideas, etc. can be told from a positive or negative perspective. Your purpose will determine how you choose to describe them. Consider this sentence. 

            “The company is losing money.” 

The word “losing” has a negative connotation, and “losing money” is a negative descriptor of the company. Now let’s replace the negative descriptor with positive actions. 

            “The company expects to meet financial goals in the third quarter.” 

We have replaced “losing money” with “meet financial goals.” Losing money is bad; meeting financial goals is good. The overall tone is now positive. We changed the interpretation, and we have told the truth. After all, if the company expects to meet goals later, then it is not meeting them now, and this includes losing money. 

This is a strategy for spin. You will need to decide whether or not this is appropriate for your purpose and aligns with your ethics. 

Learn More 

These two strategies were taken from 300 Days of Better Writing, available at HostileEditing.com. They are the daily writing tips for days 234 and 236. This e-book contains 300 writing strategies to help you become a better, more powerful writer.


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