How Persuasion Works

According to Merriam-Webster, rhetoric means

  1. the art of speaking or writing effectively: as the study of principles and rules of composition formulated by ancient critics.
  2. the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion skill in the effective use of speech
  3. a type or mode of language or speech

Classic rhetoric includes three principal ideas.  Ethos, logos and pathos.

Ethos is about the nature of society and the person presenting the idea or argument.

Logos is about facts, logic, rational principles, and

Pathos is about how people connect emotionally.  The quality or power in an actual life experience or in literature, music, speech, or other forms of expression, of evoking a feeling of pity, or of sympathetic and kindly sorrow or compassion.

rhetoric triangle
Obviously then, a rational idea that connects to the feelings you have and believe important, presented by someone of integrity and high regard, would necessarily be persuasive.  And it should be.

If the same argument was presented by someone with no knowledge or skill or demonstrated capability, we might not believe.  Without an emotional attachment we might notice, but not be moved to act.

Problems arise when logos is missing.  We have a recognized person presenting something with emotional appeal.  Could be joy, fear, anger, injustice or impatience.  We would likely act on it even if logos was missing or, more likely, glossed over with platitudes.

Logos is hard because it requires some work on the part of the listener.  Evaluate, compare to existing knowledge, critique, look for missing parts, research.  If someone you know and trust connects to your feelings, any logos will convince you.

Now think about what you see on TV:

  • Are the police waging war on the people?
  • Do celebrity spokespersons know things?
  • Do politicians deserve our votes because they are competent?
  • Are supporters of another religion or football team necessarily bad people?
  • Are people who use a different kind of laundry detergent than you somehow inferior?
  • Are all lawyers shady?
  • Are men incompetent?
  • Does drinking beer automatically connect you with pretty girls in a hot tub?

Of course not.  But arguments based on Ethos and Pathos alone could easily convince someone who was busy, or distracted, or a little uninterested, or who holds other ideologically similar beliefs.

Selling is a persuasion exercise.  So is campaigning for election.  So is getting people to watch a news show.  Selling means doing what works.  It is up to the individual to supply the missing Logos.  Failing to do so leaves you vulnerable.

Learn critical thinking skills and be skeptical about things that cannot be presented from the rational thought side of the triangle.

Scott Adams knows about persuasion.  You should read his blog. An example.  Using persuasion to solve everything.

dilbert and dogbert on sales

Be sure all the elements of the argument are present before accepting it as true.

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you.  don@moneyfyi.com  866-285-7772

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