Common Ground in Rhetoric

two people finding common ground

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In rhetoric and communication, common ground is a basis of mutual interest or agreement that's found or established in the course of an argument.

Finding common ground is an essential aspect of conflict resolution and a key to ending disputes peacefully.

Examples and Observations

  • "Whereas ancient rhetoricians seemed confident that they shared common ground with their audiences, modern rhetorical writers must often discover common ground. . . . In our pluralistic world where we often do not share values, readers and authors work to find the common ground that allows them to communicate and interpret judgments, evaluations, and emotions."
    (Wendy Olmsted, Rhetoric: An Historical Introduction. Blackwell, 2006)
  • "Buried deep within the heart of every conflict lies a territory known as 'Common Ground.' But how do we summon the courage to seek out its borders?"
    (The Control Voice in "Tribunal." The Outer Limits, 1999)
  • "Only in a situation of actual revolution . . . could one say that there is no common ground among participants in a controversy."
    (David Zarefsky, "A Skeptical View of Movement Studies." Central States Speech Journal, Winter 1980)
  • The Rhetorical Situation
    "One possibility for defining common ground . . . is a shift from that which is already shared, to that which is not shared--but which could potentially become shared, or if not shared then at least understood, once we open up the paradigm to include that act of listening to each other as part of the common ground of rhetorical exchange. . . .
    "Common ground presumes that, no matter what our individual positions, we do share a common interest in both individual and social growth, a willingness to enter into the rhetorical situation with an open mind, to consider, to hear, to ask questions, to make contributions. It is out of such commonalities that we forge new competencies, new understandings, new identities . . .."
    (Barbara A. Emmel, "Common Ground and (Re)Defanging the Antagonistic," in Dialogue and Rhetoric, ed. by Edda Weigand. John Benjamins, 2008)
  • Common Ground in Classical Rhetoric: Shared Opinion
    "Perhaps the least equivocal vision of common ground is found in rhetorical theories—which stress stylistic appropriateness and audience-adaptation. In antiquity, rhetorics were often handbooks of commonplaces—common topics appropriate for general audiences. The idea was that it takes agreement to get agreement. Aristotle thus saw common ground as shared opinion, the underlying unity that makes enthymemes possible. Enthymemes are rhetorical syllogisms trading on the listener's ability to supply premises to a speaker's claims. The common ground between speaker and listener is a cognitive unity: The said calls up the unsaid, and together the speaker and listener create a common syllogism."
    (Charles Arthur Willard, Liberalism and the Problem of Knowledge: A New Rhetoric for Modern Democracy. The University of Chicago Press, 1996)
  • The "New Rhetoric" of Chaim Perelman
    "It sometimes seems as if two opposing views are so different that no common ground can be found. Strangely enough, exactly when two groups hold radically opposing views, common ground is likely to exist. When two political parties strongly advocate different economic policies, we may assume that both parties are deeply concerned about the economic welfare of the country. When the prosecution and the defense in a legal case differ fundamentally on the matter of guilt or innocence, one can start by saying that both wish to see justice done. Of course, fanatics and skeptics will seldom be persuaded of anything."
    (Douglas Lawrie, Speaking to Good Effect: An introduction to the Theory and Practice of Rhetoric. SUN PReSS, 2005)
  • Kenneth Burke's Concept of Identification
    "When rhetoric and composition scholarship invokes identification, it most commonly cites Kenneth Burke's modern theory of consubstantial common ground. As a place for rhetorical listening, however, Burke's concept of identification is limited. It does not adequately address the coercive force of common ground that often haunts cross-cultural communication, nor does it adequately address how to identify and negotiate troubled identifications; moreover, it does not address how to identify and negotiate conscious identifications functioning as ethical and political choices."
    (Krista Ratcliffe, Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. SIU Press, 2005)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Common Ground in Rhetoric." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Common Ground in Rhetoric. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Common Ground in Rhetoric." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).