Addressing criticism in advance.

I can’t take the original credit for catching the applicability and transcendence of such an anecdote, but I can expand on it. Tucker pointed me towards Vincent Bugliosi–the man who tried Manson (Helter Skelter is the #1 crime bestseller of all time) and the Palliko-Stockton murders, and said I could learn from Bugliosi’s rhetorical strategy. And that his method of pre-emption was particularly clever.

“Whenever I know the defense is going to present evidence damaging to the

prosecution, I try to introduce the evidence myself. That strategy tends to

shave a few decibels off the defense’s trumpets, and it conveys to the jury my

willingness to see that all evidence, unfavorable to the prosecution as well

as favorable, comes out–that I am not trying to suppress it back in the

judge’s chambers or in open court.”Vincent Bugliosi, “Till Death Do Us Part”

And so the above passage is the one I really latched on to. Remember that the prosecution goes first in closing arguments, which can indeed leave them open to attacks on context or interpretation. But Bugliosi turned this curse into an asset. Instead of waiting for criticism from the defense, he criticized himself–pointing out the prosecution’s own weakness, or at least acknowledging the jury’s potential to see one. And thusly, when it comes time for the defense to mouth the same words, they appear shill or redundant. Like he says, it doesn’t eliminate the validity of the critique, rather the volume at which it is said. You frame the debate on your terms, and then the response, at least to some degree, is under your control. Of course, no one is arguing complete transparency of strategy. Machiavelli would roll over in his grave at that. In this case, you’re simply using the appearance of nobility or truth to your benefit–and the cost is slight illumination of a few specifically chosen faults. After all, if someone is willing to talk openly of something, it can’t really be that bad, right? That is the impression you want to give.

The implications of this is twofold. One, realize that when you see transparency or seemingly self-deprecating honesty, be suspicious. Realize that there may be ulterior motives. That perhaps your attention is being directed at something with the hope of a superficial glance at the present instead of an investigative one on your own recognizance. Two, see how rarely our leaders or businesses use this to their advantage. How often is the Bush administration secretive about things that we would have likely dismissed had then been forthcoming. And how this repeated mistake has lead to almost a universal mistrust of the government and thus a strategic crippling. There is an abundance of political theorists who think Clinton could have avoided his historical scarlet letter had he addressed the accusations openly and in advance–much in the same manner that Gavin Newsome recently has.

Accordingly, this will become something I’d like to incorporate into my daily strategy. Putting forth–in open court–the manageable weaknesses that I have, and think that if attacked I could sustain. Mark Cuban said something recently to the effect of “lies in sunlight are less dangerous than ones that live in the shadows.” People are very much aware of this fact; so when you put debatable issues out for all to see, their ominous nature disappears. From this, their potential to harm you is lessened. What Bugliosi did was take criticisms off the table, ironically, by pushing them closer towards the center. So for instance, in some sort of political discussion, look three or four arguments ahead and bring them up yourself. Tacking on a “but I still don’t think that changes the fact that…” blocks a check or even a checkmate from occurring. Then, that you seem more honest than your counterparts is an added benefit.

When you look at your own actions, or that of your company, or of your friends, ask “How could I defeat myself?” Play devil’s advocate, always. And then incorporate those opposing strategies into your own. Turn the counterargument into collieries of the original–and by default the counterargument is no longer an effective one. As John Boyd advocated, you’re simply getting inside their loop and making it your own. As with all strategies, there are exceptions, but I think the applications of this one, in both business, war and life are pretty large.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.