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The Three Powers of Persuasion

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Can it really be true that, as a modern manager, you need to know your Aristotle?

Aristotle - ethos, logos, pathos
Well, one part of it; yes.

For Aristotle, the power of logic was supreme, but he realised that we can often be right, we can know we are right, we can make our point clearly, and yet we can still fail to persuade.  So he identified the three things that need to work together, to build a persuasive argument:

Ethos – or character
Logos – or reason
Pathos – or emotion

Exercise: Building a Persuasive Argument

Think of an argument you need to make. It might be to your boss, your customer, your supplier, your marketing, sales or production department, or to anyone. Let’s use Aristotle’s three persuaders to build your own persuasive argument, and let’s suppose you first want to persuade me.

Step 1: Ethos

Your first step must be to establish why I should listen to you in the first place.

  • What experience do you have that is relevant?
  • What credentials make you credible in this area?
  • Why should I believe and trust you?
  • Who would vouch for you?
  • How will you build my respect with everything you say?

Step 2: Logos

Next you need to build a logical argument that contains compelling reasons why I should agree with what you are saying.  The two components of a logical argument are;

  1. Hard evidence
  2. Robust analysis

So start with the first. What evidence, facts or data can you bring to bear? Examine each carefully for flaws and retain only the strongest evidence. Aim for a maximum of three powerful bases for your argument. Having too many arguments dilutes each one, creating a paradoxical weakening of your case, rather than strengthening it.

What evidence is your strongest?
Write down all the evidence you have and then review each part to find the basis for your strongest case.

Now develop your case by interpreting the evidence to make your points. Your logos will be strongest when you take care to make your analytical process as rigorous as you can, so take care not to fudge or miss a step as you work from the facts to your conclusions.

Build your arguments now, by creating a logical flow of reasoning from your evidence to the conclusion you want me to accept.

Step 3: Pathos

Whatever delusions we may hold about the rigour of our own thought processes, most of the decisions we make are made by instinct, intuition and emotional response. Only after we have made them, do we set out to justify them rationally, by selecting evidence and an interpretation to suit.

So a purely rational approach to persuasion will often fail. You need also to appeal to my feelings and intuitions and that is the purpose of pathos.  You can use pathos bluntly by yanking on my heartstrings, or powerfully by choosing to tell a compelling story. This way, the emotion is amplified yet not so evident.

What story can you tell, to weave your evidence and logic into a compelling narrative? How can you tweak this to make it easy for me to identify myself in your story and feel a real part of it? How can your ending demonstrate the positive impact of my choosing to agree with you?

Further Reading 

The Influencing Pocketbook

Storytelling Pocketbook

Blog: The King of Self Help – about Dale Carnegie and Influence

Blog: Reciprocity and Expectation

Blog: Building Rapport with FROGS

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