The Bobblehead Strategy

The Bobblehead Strategy

Little Yeses

“Dad, can I have a new car?” is a good way to get a quick No.

“Dad, you want me to come home safe, right?” might not be the most obvious strategy for getting rid of that rusted heap with the cracked windshield and bad brakes you’re embarrassed to be seen driving.

But, if deployed by a talented arguer, that opening gambit might actually result in—if not a brand-new convertible—the acquisition of a safer, late-model used car you’ll feel sexier driving.

The trick to the Bobblehead Strategy is to get your audience (in this case, Dad), to unwittingly start nodding in agreement to a series of small and innocuous-sounding premises (call them proposal claims) until the habit of agreeing to your every premise leads to the big Yes.

Your audience might not appreciate being persuaded (you could say, trapped) into agreement by your strategy, but he will find it difficult to take back all the small consensus points you earned on the way to the ultimate approval of your proposal.

The Mandatory Therapy Example

Let’s examine the illustrative case of a student who wishes to defend a bold and innovative thesis that young people whose mental illness makes them a danger to others and themselves should be forced to undergo therapy whether they want it or not.


Therapy should be mandated for every youth who requires it.

That’s a big ask for a 3,000-word college essay. Just imagine the big objections it risks. What kind of therapy are you talking about? Doesn’t that violate the civil liberties of people who resist therapy? Don’t you have to prove that therapy is effective before you mandate it? Who are you putting in charge of deciding who “requires” it?

How do we avoid the “mob mentality” reaction of those opposed to your Big Proposal? First, we get our audience to agree to smaller propositions that don’t raise those big objections. Some suggestions:

  1. Society functions best when everybody is healthy enough to contribute.
  2. Physical and mental health both contribute to the overall well-being of our communities.
  3. The mentally ill are constrained from being their most productive selves.
  4. People suffering from depression are not as functional as their healthy peers.
  5. Depressed youth are statistically more prone to substance abuse, violence, and self-harm, even suicide.

If our presentation is persuasive, we should be seeing some head-bobbing. We haven’t said anything to raise serious objections, and we certainly haven’t said out loud that we want to force anybody into therapy.

So, we’ve prepped our audience for bigger propositions based on getting agreement on sound principles. Toulmin might say we’ve gotten assent for the warrants for our argument. Rogers might say we’ve identified common goals.

Now, to further reduce the danger of opposition, we narrow the scope of our proposal by getting a “buy-in” on the safe and more general position.


Therapy should be AVAILABLE for every youth who DESIRES it.

If we can gain approval of this premise, our more narrow and less obvious proposal stands a much better chance of being approved.

Several categories of youth can be considered, and we can help our audience recognize how easily they agree to the general proposal for all but a VERY FEW individuals.

  1. Many depressed youth ALREADY RECEIVE AND BENEFIT FROM the therapy they know they need and desire.
  2. Many depressed youth ARE UNABLE TO GET the therapy they know they need and desire.
  3. Many depressed youth DO NOT KNOW they could benefit from therapy.
  4. A few depressed youth KNOW THEY NEED THERAPY but resist it.

1. We should have no trouble getting our audience to agree that Number 1 is the ideal situation. If they agree to that, they should also agree that therapy for all who need it would be the best outcome for all.

2. They should also agree that 2 is sad for the youth who can’t get treatment and will probably agree that a program to help them receive therapy would benefit both the youth and society in general.

3. Saddest of all, maybe, would be youth who are suffering from mental illness and don’t recognize their need for treatment. Here we can lightly suggest that early caregivers (pediatricians, preschool teachers, counselors, foster care workers, etc.) are in a good position to recognize early symptoms of trouble.

4. If we have gained incremental approval for the benefit of therapy, maybe even our responsibility to provide it where needed, suggesting that EVEN THOSE YOUTH WHO DO NOT ELECT THERAPY should be compelled to receive it . . . is no longer SUCH A BIG ASK.

As a benefit to the patient and his/her community, an exploratory course of therapy, at no cost to the patient, should be mandated for every youth who is diagnosed to require it.

Once they realize what they’ve agreed to, our audience might have “buyer’s remorse” and want to retreat on the agreement.

Crowd Cheering

NOW, and not before they’ve agreed, we can bring out the logical analogies they might have recognized as setups if we had introduced them too early. For example:

  1. When we know someone has a life-threatening illness that can only be treated in a hospital, we refuse to let them check out even if they don’t want to stay.
  2. If a person is a clear threat to others, for example, because she has a deadly contagious disease, we feel justified quarantining her until she’s cured or no longer a threat.
  3. The same goes for people who deliberately or uncontrollably represent a threat to the safety and well-being of the general community.

Those arguments, saved for last, can nail down a strong Conclusion with fresh material designed to keep our new converts from rescinding their approval for our fresh proposal.


Applause, Please

Leave me a note in the Reply field if this strategy seems useful in getting your readers to ultimately agree to your outrageous hypothesis.

24 Responses to The Bobblehead Strategy

  1. gymrat230 says:

    This does seem like a valuable technique. It can take an argument that is outrageous and blatantly stated, and make it more of an agreeable argument.

  2. shxrkbait says:

    I think this strategy is very beneficial in getting readers to slowly agree with your topic. My hypothesis is something that others would find very counterintuitive therefore I think using this slow striking approach would be the best way to persuade readers.

  3. xephos1 says:

    This seems to me like a great strategy to get people to agree with you. Instead of coming right out and stating your claim, you warm up your audience until they are ready to hear and agree with your claim. It is just like testing the water with your audience.

  4. gobirds17 says:

    I believe slowly building our case with small claims is a very useful tactic. When engaging with someone you want to start off on the right foot or you will be fighting an uphill battle the entire time. If we are too bold initially they will be dismissive of our idea and we will have a tougher time persuading them to agree with us.

  5. beforeverge says:

    Yes, this makes sense. It ties into psychology, called the foot-in-the-door technique. If you can get someone to agree to something small, then they will be more likely to agree to something bigger. The opposite being the door-in-the-face technique, which involves asking for a big agreement, and then asking for a comparatively smaller agreement doesn’t seem so bad.

  6. I feel like this is helpful. I know that I have to slowly build my case over the course of my paper, but I know that is it worth it to get some little yesses.

  7. fatboy489zt says:

    This strategy does seem very useful to me because it gets the reader to already agree with half of what you want them to agree with. Even after hearing your type of conditions, they already agreed to the conclusions.

  8. When persuading someone, I wish I knew more about the bobblehead strategy. The bobblehead strategy is a unique way to persuade someone and I glad I know about it because it will be useful for me.

  9. giantsfan224 says:

    This strategy does seem useful. Getting them to agree with smaller points over the course of the essay, then claiming the big proposition at the end will make it more likely that they will be persuaded.

  10. alwaystired247 says:

    This seems like a really good strategy to me and I will make sure to pay attention to it when writing my essay, or any other argument essay in the future. It seems like it would slowly get our audiences to agree with us, then instantly rule out any doubts they may have.

  11. mochaatrain says:

    I think it’s a really good strategy because it doesn’t try to turn the reader away. It doesn’t start the argument off strong with the argument but takes the reader slowly through the process of seemingly agreeable statements. It’s like trying to convince your parents by listing out all the pros of a toy and then asking them to buy it. Instead of asking them right away, you throw in pros that would help the parents agree. Very good strategy.

  12. powerranger says:

    It seems a good strategy to me. Making an agreeable argument and making the readers feel satisfied.

  13. It does sound like a good strategy in order to have a a valid argument.

  14. Definitely seems like a technique worth while using. Could help get the reader more intrigued in your arguments and could make it more believable.

  15. rubes1256 says:

    This post shows a really good strategy for getting your readers to side with you, especially when your topic is more outrageous them most. I will definitely use this strategy for my essay.

  16. redbird1123 says:

    This seems like a good strategy because it make a more agreeable argument and make the readers feel satisfied on trust worthy

  17. oni says:

    This is a very good strategy and something I needed to hear. You can’t just out right say your hypothesis, you need to work it into the reader so that they are more likely to agree, and then therefore can’t dispute what you said. You are trying to get them to agree, not just propose something crazy.

  18. After going over the bobblehead strategy, I feel like I could very well implement this into my own research paper. It would allow my readers to stay involved and not get bored within the first 200 words of my essay.

  19. tacotyphoon says:

    This strategy will definitely make it easier for me to make an agreeable argument. It will help me get my audience to agree with me

  20. duck says:

    The bobblehead strategy seems like a good idea, as it does a good job of warming people up to an outrageous hypothesis, thus making it more likely for the audience to agree with your argument

  21. The bobblehead strategy will be very useful in making proposals that are both outrageous and not. Having people agree with you from the start will be useful, even if they are agreeing on common shared values that seem obvious. It might not persuade everyone but it will give the argument a better chance to stand on it’s own.

  22. This strategy seems like a good idea. It makes a more agreeable argument and will help my audience agree with what I am saying.

  23. hollyp715 says:

    This does seem like a useful strategy to not only make my argument more agreeable, but to make it harder to refute.

  24. Gir says:

    I firmly believe that this strategy is useful for making an outrages argument or in this case it could make my argument more agreeable.

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