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Q: Name that debate (argument) tactic ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Name that debate (argument) tactic
Category: Relationships and Society > Relationships
Asked by: steve314-ga
List Price: $4.00
Posted: 07 Nov 2004 04:50 PST
Expires: 07 Dec 2004 04:50 PST
Question ID: 425660
Trying to find the name of a particular tactic people often use in an
argument.  The basic strategy is to jump from topic to topic in an
almost random manner.

For example, assume there is a disagreement between an apple vendor and a store:  

1.  The store owner complains that the apples were old.  The vendor
summarizes the quality assurance program and results for this batch -
but is interrupted as the store owner jumps to item 2.

2.  The owner complains the deliveries are late.  The vendor pulls the
delivery log, finding -- Whoops, interrupted again and on to item 3.

Following this the store owner jumps back and forth, revisiting old
items and creating new items.  None of these items is resolved,
leaving open items seems to be a goal (having something to revisit). 
The speed of jumping back and forth depends primarily on how well a
particular sub-argument is going for him.

Answer criteria:
Need an official name for this tactic.  Provide 2 website links please.

Thank you!
Subject: Re: Name that debate (argument) tactic
Answered By: mathtalk-ga on 07 Nov 2004 14:06 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi, steve314-ga:

Given the specific context of a customer and a vendor, perhaps one
should describe this as a negotiating or bargaining tactic, rather
than a debate argument tactic.  Here the technique is cataloged as the

[Dirty Little Tricks We All Play in Licensing (PPT)]
(Leapfrog, page 20)

[Dirty Little Tricks People Play in Licensing (PDF)]

* "No, I don?t think I can agree to that, but let?s move on and come back to this."
 - Prays on your desire to make progress in negotiations
 - Usually occurs well into the negotiating process

* Usually done again and again in the later stages of negotiation

* An attempt to get you to concede on many points, without giving
anything in return!

* Usually when you do go back, they will dig in their heels, resulting
in you conceding on many points, and they concede on few.

* Best defense: don?t let them leap, not even once.  When they try,
just say, "then let?s stop here, so you can go back to management for
guidance on that issue."  They likely won't try it again.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

To use the terminology of Eric Berne's Games People Play (1964) and
Transactional Analysis (TA), the store owner is "collecting brown
stamps" by raising numerous complaints, less for the sake of the
individual issues than for accumulating a mass of them:

[Relationships with Others]

"Sometimes game playing leads to 'Stamp Collecting,' a TA term for
storing up points for feeling bad, e.g. being 'dumped,' or for doing
good. Then, 'Brown Stamps' for being hurt can be cashed in for a
guilt-free temper outburst, a week end binge, or some other revenge.
'Gold Stamps' for being good can be cashed in for a good time--a
shopping spree or a night on the town--which you wouldn't let yourself
do if you hadn't been so good."

As a negotiation tactic the brown stamp collector hopes to win
concessions from the other party "because you owe me."

But sales people can collect brown stamps too!  See the article here:

[Are you collecting brown stamps?]

"Habitual brown stamp collecting is fatal to a salesperson."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Finally there exists a well-known classical reference to the
"multipying issues" phenomenon, the mythical Greek Hydra:


"The Hydra had the body of a serpent and many heads (the number of
heads deviates from five up to one hundred there are many versions but
generally nine is accepted as standard), of which one could never be
harmed by any weapon, and if any of the other heads were severed
another would grow in its place (in some versions two would grow)."

For a judicial application of this figure of speech, see here:


"Each case began as a relatively straightforward one, in which the
only issue was whether the Petitioner had the required professional
license -- a factual issue on which the parties do not disagree. 
However, by the end of each IRB hearing, that simple and
straightforward issue had been transformed into a hydra of ever
multiplying issues and complaints."

regards, mathtalk-ga
steve314-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $3.00
Top notch!  Leapfrog is an excellent description of this tactic.  I
think I will combine it with the Hydra comment below, and refer to it
as a Leapfrogging-Hydra :)
Many Thanks!

Subject: Re: Name that debate (argument) tactic
From: pinkfreud-ga on 07 Nov 2004 15:36 PST
Wonderful answer, mathtalk! Kind of makes me want to go out and start
a debate, just so I can change the subject. ;-)

Along similar lines, there is 'Digressio' ('Digression'), a term that
is used in formal rhetoric:
Subject: Re: Name that debate (argument) tactic
From: golem22-ga on 12 Nov 2004 17:02 PST
It was allways called sidelining or sidetracking when i was grwoing
up, the name i think would depend on regional locality ie where you
are and what those around you call it. Also its a dirty tactic but
fails usualy spectacularly when confronted directly ie, lets not
change the subject and stick to the question at hand. Judges and
lawyers have more specific training in dealing with this. Watch judge
judy or any of those celebrity judge shows and you will see what i
Subject: Re: Name that debate (argument) tactic
From: alex101-ga on 15 Dec 2004 17:14 PST
It is also simple distraction or confusion.  If one can distract from
the troublesome issue, or confuse the issue with others, it may allow
them to either create the illusion of agreement or concession or that
the issue isn't as simple as it first appeared, etc. or it may simply
allow them to avoid concession.  It is all a tactic designed to
manipulate in the face of disadvantage.

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