Why Careful Speakers and Writers Avoid the “Slippery Slope”

A Google News search today reveals 7850 articles containing ”slippery slope”. It’s become the go-to rhetorical device for a generation of unoriginal speakers and writers but careful influencers avoid it because it is tired, lame and too easy to counter. Try using this phrase just once when I am coaching you and I will  hit the pause button right there and make sure that you promise never to do it again.

A slippery slope argument is tired because it has been overused to the point that it has become a joke. It is lame because it might sway the unthinking mob but isn't supported by experience, research or logic. And it is easy to counter because any point on a  slippery slope is also on that slope. So gay marriage is the slippery slope that leads to marrying sheep? Well if that were true then classic marriage is also on that same slippery slope – remember, that’s what led to gay marriage. By this reasoning any marriage is dangerous because it inevitably leads to marrying sheep, or whatever that leads to.

Everyday experience and history demonstrates quite clearly that the fabled slippery slopes are, in fact, anything but slippery. More often than not trying to get anything to change is a struggle and people are resistant even to change that will almost certainly benefit them. It took a long time, for example, to convince people that putting wheels on luggage was a good idea. Similarly many people were very reluctant to give up their typewriters for personal computers and others stubbornly resisted email until it was unavoidable.

So next time you are tempted to use a slippery slope argument remember that it long ago lost any freshness it might have had. Remember also that someone in the audience is going to rip your argument to pieces. Even if they don’t say so out loud you are only telling them that you don’t really have a convincing argument. If slippery slope is the best you have to offer then basically you don’t have any argument.

And once you start using the slippery slope device you risk sliding down the slippery slope towards a surfeit of rhetoric and before you know it we will all be speaking Greek, or marrying sheep or whatever else is down there at the bottom of that slope. Or maybe not.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about speaking & influencing skills or other areas of communication you can contact Andrew Hennigan by email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, through his website http://andrewhennigan.com or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81.


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