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Straw Man: In Office Politics Absurdity Is Not a Handicap

        posted by , January 30, 2013

Straw man is an absurd political tactic that can nonetheless be effective.

straw man

If you're like me, you dislike underhanded political tactics. When you can quickly recognize political tricks you can more readily defend yourself.

Definition of Straw Man

A straw man is a misrepresentation of the other side's position. To "attack a straw man" is to refute an argument that nobody as actually made.

Straw man tactics are used in sales, negotiations and politics for several reasons:

to influence

to win an argument

as a diversion

to illicit an emotional response in the opposition

as a delay tactic

There are several well known strategies for dealing with a straw man attack. The most effective is to call it out (e.g. "that's not what I said, you're trying to confuse the issue").

Straw Man Examples

Customer: I prefer larger cars.
Salesperson: It's a myth that larger cars are safer. In fact, this car has a great safety rating. Let me check the exact rating for you, since you're interested in this car.

Customer: I heard this car has quality problems.
Salesperson: That's not true, it's our top selling model.

Principle: We should give chocolate to students every day.
Teacher: Isn't too much chocolate bad for a student's health?
Principle: You want the students to starve?

Politician A: We need to make tax rules fair.
Politician B: You're saying that we need to over-tax job creators to drive up the unemployment rate. That's certainly not fair.

Daughter: I want to study music.
Father: You may want to be unemployed your entire life but I don't plan to support you.

Friend A: I can never sleep on a flight.
Friend B: I have other friends who are scared to fly but I love to fly.

Negotiator A: Your price is too high.
Negotiator B: Your company is having financial difficulties? We do financing.

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