Ad Hominem: Don’t fall into this negotiation trap

John Cousins
February 7, 2023
2 min read

There is a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from the ancients. In many ways they knew so much more than we do. One thing they had down was that they knew the power of persuasion and refined the arts of argumentation, oratory and negotiation.

Logical Fallacies

Classical logic and rhetoric are concerned with persuasion through constructing and communicating proper and correct arguments. Logical fallacies identify a group of faulty arguments to be aware of so we don’t fall into the trap of using them or falling for them.

One of the most famous is the “argumentum ad hominem” or ad hominem for short. Ad hominem is Latin for “to the person”. It represents a negotiating pitfall in which an argument is countered by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.

An ad hominem attack against an individual, not against an idea, is highly flattering. It indicates that the person does not have anything intelligent to say about your message.

- Nassim Nicholas Taleb


When we are in a contentious situation, people can tend to piss us off. Holding our tongue and not reacting and lashing out takes discipline. If we want to conduct a productive and constructive interaction, sometime we have to take a deep breath and hold back. Much of the time this is warranted because we have made the mistake of conflating the problem or issue with the person. And once we act on that mistake, the prospects for constructive dialogue are toast. You can’t unring a bell.

Memo to myself:

No verbal assaults on the person.

Negotiation 101

One of the first rules of negotiating effectively is to separate the people from the interests. Focus on the interests and try to come up with novel ways to address each party’s needs and interests. Refrain from attacking the people on the other side of the table as this is counter-productive and creates ill will.

Make sure you really understand your interests and which are priorities. Also it is critical to understand the interests of the other side so listen intently.

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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