The Three Most Important Words in Persuasive Communication — And, But, Therefore.

Imagine us hunkered down in our favorite local watering hole. The bartender serves up our respective drinks of choice (tequila for me, please).  I take a long, slow swig and say, “Man, have I got a story for you.”  Your eyes get big.  You adjust your stool, lean in, and buckle up for what is sure to be an incredible ride.  I begin…

I went to the grocery store this morning.  First, I got cucumbers.  Next, I rolled on down aisle two for soup. Oh, my, I forgot the best part. They had a buy-one-get-one deal on my favorite cookies!  Anyway, I finished and headed to the checkout. I said, “good day” to the cashier, she smiled at me. I loaded up the car, and home I went!

Is this a story? After all, it certainly has a well-defined beginning, middle and end.  Yes? 


My epic tale was simply masquerading as story.  What’s missing?  Putting aside the structural elements for now, how did you feel reading it?  Did you care even one little bit?  Were you confused about the point?  Were you bored silly waiting for something, anything to happen?  Were you annoyed with me for wasting your time? 

The problem is the word “AND” could have connected every sentence of this lame paragraph.  We never got to a “but” or a “therefore.” 

Wait, what?

“Marge vs. the Monorail”, S. 4, ep. 71

If your “story” consists only of, “and this happened,” then it’s not a story.  It’s just a string of stuff lacking conflict or consequence.  It’s wasted breath and wasted opportunity.  To borrow a reference from my favorite show of all time, The Simpsons, it’s an escalator to nowhere.  It’s NON-narrative!

Don’t get me wrong, “AND” is an important initial element in narrative structure.  It is “the setup” material. It establishes an “ordinary world” that must then be upended with some kind of conflict that truly swings your story into motion– what we call the “BUT”.  The “but” is the central problem or obstacle. The resolution of that problem is what we call the “THEREFORE”.   

That’s narrative structure in a nutshell: And, But & Therefore, or “ABT” for short.

It’s a brilliant method uncovered by story expert Dr. Randy Olson.  He wrote a book about it called The Narrative Gym, and we just co-authored a version of his book geared toward the legal community:  The Narrative Gym For Law: Introducing the ABT Framework for Persuasive Advocacy.

So, what does the ABT have to offer lawyers and legal professionals?

Lawyers are problem-solvers.  Narrative, at its core, is built around the problem/solution dynamic.  That’s all story is:  a problem in search of a solution.  When we view our cases through this lens, we become far more persuasive advocates. 

Unfortunately, too many lawyers, especially in my world of criminal defense, focus on delivering only “and” material.  At sentencing we merely recite a list of buzzwords like, “abuse”, “addiction” or “depression”.  We hope after hearing those things the judge feels sorry for our client and cuts him a break. 

More important, when we communicate this way, we give up control of the narrative.  We give our audience permission to take all of those pity points and concoct their own story around it — and it’s never a good one.  This kind of sympathy play unwittingly paints a picture of a client broken beyond repair, one that needs to be locked away for as long as possible for the good of society. That is certainly not the story we had hoped to tell.

The way we control the narrative is by always including a but & therefore, which activate the brain, engage the listener and create connection.  Without these three elements, we risk running our cases right off the cliff (or the escalator).

Our clients have unique and important stories to tell.  When we tell them well, we achieve incredible results.  But until now, nobody has taught us how to accomplish this in a simple, immediately actionable way.  Therefore, if you are a lawyer looking to enhance your persuasive power, check out The Narrative Gym For Law: Introducing the ABT Framework for Persuasive Advocacy. 

See what I mean??? 

P.S. For a fantastic conversation about the ABT, Law, Miranda Rights and yes, even The Simpsons, have a listen to my recent podcast appearance on The Business of Story, with Park Howell!


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