Use the Three Greeks to improve your Powers of Persuasion

We often find ourselves in a position where we need to influence other people. We might want to change their mind, to sell them on an idea or to secure their agreement to a proposal. A fruitful way to approach these situations is to use the three Greeks, ancient concepts that are proven to work. In my experience most people use only one of the three Greeks and they would be much more effective if they used all three.

The three Greeks are Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Ethos refers to values and standing, authority and credibility. The word ethics derives from the Greek word ethos. Pathos in this context means feelings and emotions. The words empathy and sympathy are derived from the greek word pathos. Logos means logic, reason, and analysis. When we try to persuade people using facts, statistics, deduction and reasoning we are using logos.

How can you use all three Greeks to increase your effectiveness? Let’s start with ethos. Why should someone listen to you? What authority do you have? When you hear a speaker introduced at a conference there is often a short description given of the speaker’s achievements and credentials – this establishes their ethos. It gives the audience a reason to listen and believe. If you are meeting someone for the first time it pays to establish your credentials and expertise – preferably before the meeting but otherwise early in the meeting. The trick is to do this without sounding as though you are boastful. In a preliminary email you might say something like ‘I have worked in this field for 7 years and have helped XXX and YYY to successfully accomplish ZZZ.’ Or you might insert a link and say ‘I thought you might possibly be interested to read this article I published on the subject. The purpose is to establish some level of standing and authority before the meeting. If you are expert it is important to communicate your expertise.

Pathos involves appealing to the feelings of the person or people you are meeting. If you listen to the speeches of Martin Luther King or to the pre-election addresses of Barack Obama you will observe they appeal heavily to emotion rather than logic. They paint a vision of a better future in which people can have hope and pride. These speeches were highly effective in changing people’s minds yet in everyday conversation we tend to shun emotional appeals. But people’s feelings are powerful forces. If we can appeal to pride, excitement, altruism or hope then we can inspire people to change. We can also talk about fear, disappointment, anger and frustration as emotions that can be overcome.

The third Greek is the one that most of us use most of the time. We appeal to facts, rational arguments, logic and reason to advance our case. ‘The reason we should do this is because it will save money and increase sales.’ These might well be good arguments and we should certainly deploy logos to advance our cause. However it we can first establish our credibility with ethos and then also appeal to pathos by painting a picture of a better future in which we can be happy and take pride then we are much more likely to persuade. If we can convince with logic and emotion then we will be doubly effective. Don’t take just one Greek to your next meeting or presentation – take all three.

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