Law 9: Win Through Actions Never Through Argument

The 48 Laws Of Power Summary Series


“Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.”

Transgression Of The Law

In 131 BC, Roman consul Publius Crassus Dives Mucianus who lay siege to the Greek town of Pergamus found himself in need of a battering ram to force himself through the walls of the town. He sent an order to a military engineer in Athens requesting these hefty large ship masts be sent to him immediately.

The military engineer did not agree with the use of these large masts and argued endlessly with the soldiers who delivered the request that the smaller masts were more suited.The soldiers warned the engineer that Mucianus was not a man to argue with, but he insisted the smaller mast would be the only one that would work with the machine he was constructing.

The engineer disobeyed Law 1: Never Outshine The Master. He was adamant that his idea and opinion was the best — trying to argue incessantly about how you are right and they are wrong undermines a leaders intelligence and ego. You will soon find out how this mistake cost the engineer greatly. When the smaller mast arrived Mucianus asked the soldiers for an explanation. They described how the engineer argued endlessly for the smaller mast. Mucianus went into a rage. He could no longer concentrate on the siege. All he could think about was the impudent engineer, whom he ordered to be brought to him immediately.

The engineer happily explained to the consul the reasons for the smaller mast. He went on and on, using the same arguments he had made with the soldiers. He said it was wise to ‘listen to experts in these matters’ — which is a mistake that undermined the consul’s intelligence. Mucianus let him finish, then had him stripped naked before the soldiers and flogged and scourged with rods until he died.

This engineer’s name hadn’t even been recorded in history. Which speaks to how severe his mistake was.


This military engineer is the quintessence of the ‘arguer type’. The ‘arguer type’ is one in our society who believes everything they say is true; their way is the best way and they must have the last word. In today’s reality, arguing or disagreeing with someone so incessantly is rarely going to get you killed. But the consequences still can be dire.

The Arguer does not understand that words are never neutral, and that by arguing with a superior he impugns the intelligence of one more powerful than he.

It was the status of the said leader he was disobeying that ended in the engineer’s demise. The lesson from this story is to be conscious and aware of the individual you are disagreeing with. Is it really worth the fight? Maybe saving face is smarter move for your cause.

“He also has no awareness of the person he is dealing with. Since each man believes that he is right, and words will rarely convince him otherwise, the arguer’s reasoning falls on deaf ears. When cornered, he only argues more, digging his own grave. Once he has made the other person feel insecure and inferior in his beliefs, the eloquence of Socrates could not save the situation.”

Which translates to exactly what this law is about: win through actions, never through argument.

Observance Of The Law

In 1502, in Florence Italy there lay an enormous block of marble standing in the church of Santa Maria del Fiore. Everyone had agreed this piece of marble had been ruined and was impossible to sculpt. Friends of the great Michelangelo decided to write to the artist, then living in Rome. They were sure he could do something with the marble. Michelangelo traveled to Florence, examined the stone, and came to the conclusion that he could in fact carve a fine figure from it.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer of the High Renaissance who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art.

Piero Soderini, Florence’s Mayer, thought this was another waste of time to attempt to sculpt the impossible. Weeks later, as Michelangelo was putting the final touches on the statue Soderini entered the studio to examine it. Likening himself a connoisseur of fine art, he studied the huge work and told Michelangelo that while he thought the piece was magnificent, the nose was too big. Michelangelo realized that Soderini was standing in a place right under the sculpture and did not have the proper perspective. Of course he did not tell him this.

Without a word. He gestured Soderini up the scaffolding. Reaching for the nose he picked up a chisel, as well as a little bit of a marble dust that lay on the planks. Michelangelo started to tap lightly with the chisel letting the little bits of dust he had gathered in his hand fall little by little creating the illusion that he was changing the sculpture. He actually did nothing to change the nose, but gave every appearance of working on it. After a few minutes of this charade he stood aside: “Look at it now.” “I like it better,” replied Soderini, “you’ve made it come alive.”


Michelangelo knew that by changing the sculpture and the shape of the nose, he might ruin it. Yet Soderini prided himself on his knowledge of his aesthetic judgement of art. So to offend such a man by arguing over such a thing as ‘perspective’ would be foolish and futile. In fact it would probably put future commissions in jeopardy. His solution was to change Soderini’s perspective (literally bringing him closer to the nose) without making him realize that this was the cause of his misconception. He found a way to keep perfection of the statue intact while at the same time making Soderini believe he had improved it. A genius move.

Keys To Power

Every single person knows many examples of how something they said has inadvertently had a detrimental effect on their relationship with someone. I think repeating the quote above is needed to reinforce the point.

A profound statement riddled with truth.

Example: You pay someone a compliment who is already in a happy elated state versus saying that very same compliment to that same person who is in a more depressive emotional state. That person is going to respond quite differently to each identical compliment. Why? Because the average person is reactive, not responsive. Their reply will be largely dictated by the current state they’re in and the insecurities they’re feeling, or not feeling, at a given moment time. Bear this in mind when communicating with the emotionally volatile.

We must learn to pick our moments. If you feel word’s are needed than pick the smartest one’s given a person's emotional state and insecurities. Exhibiting emotional intelligence is key.

“Even the best argument has no solid foundation, for we have all come to distrust the slippery nature of words. And days after agreeing with someone, we often revert to our old opinion out of sheer habit.”

“They are there, before our eyes, for us to see — “Yes, now the statue’s nose does look just right.” There are no offensive words, no possibility of misinterpretation. No one can argue with a demonstrated proof.”

I am guilty of contradicting this truth many many times. In my experience it’s something you have to be very conscious of in the heat of the moment and even when you’re having a simple laid back conversation.

Win through your actions, not words.

That’s all it is in the end.

How often are our words misconstrued? This happens very often through online communication. Many aspects of the art of communication are lost when you’re talking through a phone or computer compared to face to face. Tone, energy, eye contact and emotional connection are some of the many subtle modalities that are lost. Everybody has been in a situation where they’ve been misinterpreted over some of these forms of online communication. It’s easy to become dependent on these comforting forms of online communication. As a result, social tact and emotional intelligence may wane causing issues that may have not previously been there through poor emotional intelligence and a brainless overuse of words. Substituting the comfortability of online verbal diarrhea for methodical, decisive self aware action may prove to be most effective for the most critical of tasks and conversations.

Nevertheless people want to talk — we crave to be heard. People want to talk about their goals, they want to talk about what they’re going to do, where they want to go and why they want to do it all. If I come back to you in 6 months and I don’t see you’ve done any of the things you said you would. Well now you’ve lost integrity within yourself AND respect from your peers. You’ve tried to win through words and argument instead of actions. Subsequently you’ve lost big time. Once again this is where executing Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions and Law 4: Always Say Less Than Necessary becomes necessary.

“When aiming for power, or trying to conserve it, always look for the indirect route. And also choose your battles carefully. If it does not matter in the long run whether the other person agrees with you — or if time and their own experience will make them understand what you mean — then it is best not even to bother with a demonstration. Save your energy and walk away.”

We all see transgressions to the above quote by Greene every day. Whether that be within the health and fitness community, schools, religion, politics — pretty much every modality of life. Most hilariously, this can be witnessed within the YouTube comments section. Does the ‘troll’ who comments on your video to you really matter? We have a finite amount of emotional, physical and mental strength each day. Choose your battles carefully. Save energy for the people that truly matter to your life — the people who would be sad to see you gone.


This technique has saved the hide of many a con artists. Count Victor Lustig was selling phony boxes that claimed to create counterfeit money. Lustig had sold dozens to many suckers around the country.

Victor Lustig was a con artist who undertook scams in various countries and became best known as “the man who sold the Eiffel Tower twice.

“But one Sheriff Richards, of Remsen County, Oklahoma, was not the kind of man to accept being conned out of $10,000, and one morning he tracked Lustig down to a hotel in Chicago.

Lustig heard a knock on the door. When he opened it he was looking down the barrel of a gun.

“What seems to be the problem?” he calmly asked.

“You son of a bitch,” yelled the sheriff,

“I’m going to kill you. You conned me with that damn box of yours!”

Lustig feigned confusion.

“You mean it’s not working?” he asked.

“You know it’s not working,” replied the sheriff.

“But that’s impossible,” said Lustig. “There’s no way it couldn’t be working. Did you operate it properly?”

“I did exactly what you told me to do,” said the sheriff.

“No, you must have done something wrong,” said Lustig.

The argument went in circles. The barrel of the gun was gently lowered.

Lustig next went to phase two in the argument tactic:

He poured out a whole bunch of technical gibber-jabber about the box’s operation, completely confusing the sheriff, who now appeared less sure of himself and argued less forcefully.

“Look,” said Lustig, “I’ll give you your money back right now. I’ll also give you written instructions on how to work the machine and I’ll come out to Oklahoma to make sure it’s working properly. There’s no way you can lose on that.”

The sheriff reluctantly agreed.

To satisfy him totally, Lustig took out a hundred one-hundred-dollar bills and gave them to him, telling him to relax and have a fun weekend in Chicago. Calmer and a little confused, the sheriff finally left. Over the next few days Lustig checked the paper every morning. He finally found what he was looking for: A short article reporting Sheriff Richards’s arrest, trial, and conviction for passing counterfeit notes. Lustig had won the argument; the sheriff never bothered him again.” Lustig went against this law but at the same time, abided by it. He used argument and emotion to cloud judgement and create confusion, in turn saving him from being shot. Then took action to set the sheriff up.

Originally Posted

Self reflective writings & book summaries on philosophy, psychology and human behaviour.

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