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The Three Powers of Persuasion

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


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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What can Pocketbooks Teach our Politicians?

Thursday is polling day in the UK and on Friday, we’ll get a new Government. It may be a new version of the same one, a combination of the same and something different or some flavour of different perspectives.

Whatever happens, the world won’t change overnight – even for those of us in the UK.  I say this because one of my earliest memories is the terror my parents expressed at the implications of a change of Government when I was a small child.  Yet the next day, everything seemed just the same to me.

What’s new this time?

The big change in this election is the increase in focus on party leaders at the expense of a forensic analysis of their parties and of their parties’ policies.  Like it or loathe it, this change is probably with us to stay.

So we’ve been trawling through our collection of Pocketbooks, looking for wisdom and advice for the party leaders who will compete in the UK’s next General Election (which will be any time between summer 2010 and spring 2015).

Advice for the Leaders from Management Pocketbooks

The Leadership Pocketbook tells us that leaders need:

  1. Enthusiasm – show genuine interest
  2. Energy – be lively
  3. Engagement – make it interesting

The Presentations Pocketbook tells us there are three ways to deflect an unwanted question:

  1. Ask the audience for their views
  2. Pass it to a colleague who is an expert
  3. Ask the questioner their opinion before answering

The Influencing Pocketbook tells us that people will say yes when your ideas meet their view of life in one of three areas:

  1. Principle and values
  2. Beliefs and opinions
  3. Needs and wants

And finally, if our politicians end up having to do deals in a balanced Parliament, The Resolving Conflict Pocketbook tells us three steps towards principled negotiation:

  1. Don’t take a position – it will only lead to an argument, so hear people out and look for a joint solution
  2. Separate the people from the problem – personal style is not the substance of the matter and attacks on it are fruitless
  3. Focus on interests – ‘what do you want to achieve?’, rather than ‘what are your ideological roots?’

… and we have to apologise to one leader for the failure of the Pocketblog to provide all the help he needed.  When, on 13 April, we advised:

  1. Beware clip-on radio microphones
    Turn them off when someone comes to the front at the break, to ask you a private question
  2. Beware clip-on radio microphones
    Turn them off before you head out of the room, walking right in front of a speaker
  3. Beware clip-on radio microphones
    Please turn them off before you take a comfort break

… we should perhaps have added:

….4.   Beware clip-on radio microphones
.…..….Always

So here’s the deal

The real test of how effectively you can communicate your message is: ‘would a small child understand it?’  Politicians have been busy simplifying their message.  You may admire or deprecate this trend.  We’ll see the outcome soon!

And …  Why not share your own favourite advice from one of the Management Pocketbooks in the comments space below.  Feel free to contribute, whether you are a reader or an author.  Finally, any takers for a new PPC – prospective pocketbook candidate? The Politician’s Pocketbook.  Now there’s an idea!

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