Aligning the Principles of Influence with Aristotle’s Ethos, Pathos and Logos


Aristotle is credited with the following definition of persuasion: “The art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.”
Pause and think about it for a moment. Isn’t that a great definition? If someone is already doing what you want there’s no need to communicate in order to change anything. Unfortunately, all too often others aren’t doing what you’d like and you need to communicate with them in a way that changes that.
If I could change one word in Aristotle’s definition it would be to substitute “science” for “art.” In my mind art conveys natural talents or gifts that some people might feel they lack. Science on the other hand is something that can be learned by anyone.
When it comes to the science of influence it may surprise you to know we have more than six decades of research from social psychologists and behavioral economists on the psychology of persuasion. That means we now have scientifically proven ways to communicate more effectively. In the business world we might say there are “best practices” when it comes to effectively communicating.
Aristotle taught people three criteria for effective persuasion: ethos, pathos and logos. We’ll take a look at each and see how Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence come into play.
Ethos refers to someone’s character and credibility. Two principles of influence come into play to establish ethos: liking and authority.
We know it’s easier to say “Yes” to people we know and like. That’s the principle of liking. If someone likes you the “halo effect” comes into play and they naturally give you the benefit of the doubt on many other attributes, which makes it easier to effectively communicate.
Influence Tip – A great way to get the liking principle going is to offer up genuine compliments. When you do that people feel good and associate those positive feelings with you.
We also know it’s natural for us to pay closer attention to people we view as credible – those who are wiser than we are, experts in their fields. This is the principle of authority at work.
Influence Tip – The more someone knows about your credentials and experience the easier it is to tap into ethos, so make sure they know your credentials before you speak.
Pathos is the connection the persuader makes with another when communicating. Liking and reciprocity both help build relationships so they’re what you want to try to tap into when establishing pathos.
The more someone likes you the easier it is to connect. Once you find out you have a few things in common with your audience they feel a sense of camaraderie and they’re open to what you have to say.
Influence Tip – Make sure you look for things you have in common and mention them early on. If you’re being introduced make sure a few personal items are shared before you speak. Something as simple as being married or having kids can get the ball rolling. You want your audience to know you’re just like them to make a connection.
Reciprocity tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who’ve first given to them. By doing something for others, helping them in some way, they will feel obligated to at least listen to you. Reciprocity, builds relationships because when you help others they feel good about you.
Influence Tip – Look for ways to genuinely help people before you ever ask anything of them. Once you’ve done that and need their help they’ll be much more likely to say “yes.”
Logos is the logical use of words. It’s the factual argument to be made. Consensus, consistency and scarcity come into play here.
Consensus tells us people tend to move with the crowd. When we know large numbers of people, or people just like us, are doing something we are more likely to go along with it. This is logical because historically there’s safety in numbers. As the old saying goes, “Everyone can’t be wrong.” Well, at least the majority of the time everyone isn’t wrong so it’s usually a good bet to follow the crowd.
Influence Tip – Make sure you talk about what others are doing to “invite” your audience along because it’s only logical for them to move with the crowd.
People work very hard to make sure their words and deeds match. In fact, we all feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what we say and do. This is the principle of consistency.
Influence Tip – Find out whatever you can about your audience before you speak and make sure you relate your request back to what they’ve said, done, believe, etc. After all, it only makes sense for people to stay true to themselves.
Scarcity alerts us to the reality that when something is rare or dwindling in availability it makes us want it more. Again, quite often it’s the logical thing to seize opportunities before they go away. Doing so also helps us avoid regret over lost opportunities.
Influence Tip – It should be your goal to share what makes you, your organization, or your offering unique in some way. In other words, what does somebody stand to lose by not going along with your request?
So there you have a quick summary of Aristotle’s methodology tied to Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence. Tying the concepts from these brilliant thinkers is a great one-two combination for more effective persuasion.

** To vote for Robert Cialdini, President of Influence At Work, for the Top Management Thinker of 2013 click here.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
3 replies
  1. Brian Ahearn
    Brian Ahearn says:

    I have to differ there Scott. We can manipulate people and we can persuade. Persuading doesn't mean taking advantage of but manipulating does entail taking advantage. There's a big difference. I encourage ou to put manipulation in the seach box and see some posts I've written on that subject.


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