The High-Ground Maneuver

Don’t you want to know one of the core tools that helped Trump emerge from the 2016 election campaign unscathed, despite all the “dirt” his opponents had on him?

It’s called the High-Ground Maneuver.

And it’s one of the most powerful defensive levers of persuasion you can use.

The High-Ground Maneuver is is one of the best persuasive defenses you can learn and use.


The High-Ground Maneuver is a way to defuse objections or criticisms.

It works like this:

  1. Move the issue from the specific context to a general principle.
  2. Then, frame the general principle in a way that no one would reasonably counter argue it.

In essence, you reframe the issue and “take the high ground”.

The High-Ground Maneuver is a little abstract at first, and may take some time for you to process. But once you get it, it’s an invaluable defensive lever of persuasion.


A good example comes from Scott Adams’ Win Bigly:

“For example, if a military drone accidentally kills civilians, and there is a public outcry, it would be a mistake for the military to spend too much time talking about what went wrong with that particular mission. The High-Ground Maneuver would go something like this: ‘War is messy. No one wants civilians to die. We will study this situation to see how we can better avoid it in the future.’”

So, to break that down:

  1. Move from Specific to General — “War is Messy.” Instead of talking about the specific instances of the drone casualties, the speaker moves to a more general concept that covers the situation.
  2. State An Unassailable Principle — “No one wants civilians to die.” How can you argue against that? You can’t.

Unassailable Principle

It can be tricky to come up with a general principle that no reasonable person would argue against. But it may help to think about:

  • Common Goals — What common goals do you have with the other person?
  • Generally Worthy Goals — Besides goals with the other person, what are your general, worthy goals? “No one wants civilians to die” is a valuable goal, for example. Or could also be “making users happy”.
The High-Ground Maneuver is a persuasive jiu jitsu move that enables you to defuse verbal attacks.


  • PR — How can you use the High-Ground Maneuver to evade attacks on your product/service/business? It’s a particularly effective PR move. For example, after Apple’s Antennaegate problem, Steve Jobs used the maneuver by saying “We’re not perfect. Phones are not perfect. We all know that. But we want to make our users happy.”
  • Copywriting & Sales — You can preempt criticisms by using the High-Ground Maneuver before a client has a chance to object. For example, “We know our services cost more than average, but everybody knows you get what you pay for, and no one wants to pay for sloppy work.”
  • Personal SNAFUs — The High-Ground Maneuver is excellent for getting past your own SNAFUs at work or at home. Like all levers of persuasion, it should be used ethically. But if you SNAFU, acknowledge the mistake, and pivot to a broader principle (e.g., how the company wants to make sure customers are happy, and you’ll pay extra attention to it in the future).
  • Negotiations — When negotiating, you can put pressure on the other side by appealing to the general principle that you “want to make sure everyone gets a fair deal here” whenever you push the key points you want.

How have you leveraged the High-Ground Maneuver to persuade and influence? Where have you seen it used by others? Share your expertise in the comments.

You want to be someone who maximizes your positive impact on the world, right?

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