I love it when the Harvard Business Review agrees with me. A recent HBR blog post by Scott Edinger focuses on, “Three Elements of Great Communication, According to Aristotle“. The three are: ethos, logos, and pathos.
Ethos answers the questions: Are you credible? Why should I trust your recommendations? Logos is the logic of your argument. Is it factual? Do you have the evidence to back it up? (Interestingly, the more ethos you have,the less evidence you need to back up your logos. People will trust that you’re credible). Pathos is your ability to connect emotionally with your audience. If you have high credibility and impeccable logic, your audience might conclude that you could take advantage of them. Pathos reassures them that you won’t — your audience knows that you’re a good citizen.
When I teach people the arts of public speaking, I generally recommend that they start by establishing their credibility (ethos). The trick is to do this without overdoing it. If you come across as a braggart, you reduce your credibility rather than burnishing it. A good tip to remember is to use the word, “we” rather than “I”. “We” implies teamwork; “I” implies an egocentric psychopath.
After establishing your credibility, you proceed to the logic (logos) of your argument. What is it that you’re recommending and why do you think it’s a good solution for the audience’s needs? It’s often a good idea to start by defining the audience’s needs. Then you can fit the recommendation to the need. Keep it simple and use stories. Nobody remembers abstract logic and difficult technical concepts. They do remember stories.
Think about pathos both before the speech and in the conclusion. Ideally, you can meet the audience before your speech, ask insightful questions, and make personal connections. The more you can talk to members of the audience before the speech, the better off you’ll be. Look for anecdotes that you can use in your speech — that also builds your credibility. If nothing else, spend the last few minutes before your speech shaking hands with audience members and thanking them for coming to your speech. At the end of your speech, you can return to similar themes and express your appreciation. It’s also appropriate (usually) to point out how your recommendation will affect members of the audience personally. For instance, “We believe that our solution will help your company be more efficient. It will also help you build your career.”
Those of you who have followed my website for a while may remember my videos on ethos, logos, and pathos. I made them when I worked at Lawson Software and was teaching communication skills internally. Again, I’d like to thank Lawson for allowing me to use these videos on this website as I build my own practice.
By the way, all these suggestions apply to deliberative speeches. You present a logical argument and ask your audience to deliberate on it. On the other hand, you can also give a demonstrative speech where you throw the logic out altogether. They’re often called barn burners or stem winders. You can learn more here.
On July 4, 1863, Robert E. Lee was leading a Confederate army in retreat from Gettysburg when they were trapped against the rain-swollen Potomac River. The Union army, commanded by General George Meade, pursued the rebels. Abraham Lincoln ordered Meade to attack immediately. Instead, Meade dithered, the weather cleared, the river shrank, and Lee and his army escaped. Lincoln was furious and penned this letter to Meade:
I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within our easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so south of the river, when you can take with you very few— no more than two-thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect and I do not expect that you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.
Interestingly, Lincoln never sent the letter — it was found among his papers after his death. Lincoln generally praised his colleagues for their positive accomplishments and said little or nothing about their failures. Apparently, he wrote letters like the one to Meade to relieve his own frustrations — and perhaps to leave a record for history — rather than to humiliate his colleagues and create public acrimony.
As Douglas Wilson, a Lincoln scholar, pointed out in a recent article (click here), Lincoln was great communicator but not necessarily in the way we think. Some tidbits on how he worked:
Lincoln has always been one of my favorite presidents and I certainly enjoyed the recent movie from Steven Spielberg. Lincoln communicated effectively and was an expert at shaping public opinion. As the movie showed, he was also adept at cutting deals and rolling logs to achieve his greater goals. Not bad for a kid from the prairies.
I struggle to be a good listener. When I’m engaged in an intense conversation, I’m often: 1) Framing my response; or 2) Thinking about a solution to the problem at hand. Of course, when I’m thinking about something else, I’m not really listening — I’m maneuvering. More importantly, I’m not being persuasive. If the other side thinks I’m not listening, they’re less likely to be persuaded to my point of view.
So I was pleased to find a recent McKinsey white paper by Bernard Ferrari titled “The Executive’s Guide to Better Listening”. (Click here). As Ferrari points out, “Listening is the front end of decision making.” If you want your company to be more innovative, you’ll need to make a number of critical decisions. If you’re a good listener, you’ll make better decisions and be more persuasive. That’s the best double play since Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio.
So how do you become a good listener? Ferrari suggests three critical skills. First, show respect. Respect breeds confidence and trust. (This is essentially the same lesson that Greek rhetoric teaches — build trust first). If you’re a manager, you probably have a complex set of responsibilities. You can’t know everything about every facet of your domain. By respecting your teammates, you will naturally draw them into the conversation and learn from them. If you simply jump to a solution (as I sometimes do) you short circuit the entire process. Not only do you miss out on any advice about the current situation, you also teach your colleagues not to offer advice in the future. This doesn’t mean you should avoid incisive questions. Au contraire, the more the better to keep the conversation flowing.
Second, keep quiet. Ferrari suggest a variation of the 80/20 rule — let the other person speak about 80% of the time while you speak only 20% of the time. (This also works when you’re on a date — always encourage your partner to speak more than you do). This is a particularly hard one for me. I want to jump in and share my opinion because I know it’s … well, brilliant. But often times, I wind up answering the wrong question or chasing an irrelevant tangent because I’ve spoken too soon. As Ferrari notes, it’s important to take your time: “…if a matter gets to your level … it is probably worth spending some of your time on it.”
Third, challenge assumptions. This doesn’t just mean that you challenge other people’s assumptions. It also means that you encourage your colleagues to challenge your assumptions. As Ferrari writes, “… too many executives … inadvertently act as if they know it all … and subsequently remain closed to anything that undermines their beliefs.” Ultimately, “The goal is common action, not common thinking…” So, be explicit. Let your colleagues know that you don’t know everything and welcome their questions, especially the challenging ones.
I’ve found that it’s not easy to master these three skills. But when I do succeed, I learn more and, frankly, I have more fun. That makes me a better manager and a better teammate. And that makes my company more innovative.
Want to win an argument? The Greeks — who invented the science of persuasion — said you could only really win an argument in the future tense. The present tense and past tense are useful Continue reading
Welcome to Travis White Communications. Our goal is to help you be more persuasive. On this website, you’ll find a great deal of information on the science of persuasion and the arts of communication — especially public speaking skills and writing skills. In addition to the educational material, I also blog on communication, presentation and persuasion topics. Please come back and visit again regularly as we expect to add new content most every day. You can also get the Persuasive Communication Tip of the Day on Twitter at @TravisCommGuy.
The educational content in this site is divided into five categories found on the navigation bar above.