How to Harness The Power of Persuasion To Improve Communication

The Balancing act between the effectiveness of your argument and how well you deliver it.

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Long ago, I taught a course to my post graduate students in London titled the “Psychology of Persuasion.” I believed the course was worthwhile not to encourage manipulative behavior or unleash general psychological malice onto society.

See Me, Hear Me, Feel Me: The Art of Modern Communication!

As simple as communication seems, a lot of what we try to say to others and what they try to say to us gets misunderstood. Often this causes frustration, conflict and distance in our relationships, both personal and professional. But good and effective communication is essential to the working and cohesiveness of any team, group or partnership.

The first important step in communication is looking at the person you are trying to communicate with. Look for all those non-verbal clues and you will discover how the person is really receiving the message you are giving.

In our everyday lives, communication is almost as essential as breathing, whether we like it or not. Within teams, cross-functionally, up, down, across, and beyond our organizations, we have to be able to communicate in order to inform, influence, and learn from one another. We need the ability to express needs directly, share information appropriately, solicit information, listen to others, and advocate positions, all while building and maintaining strong relationships.

I recently had a client who owns and runs a successful business with his business partner. Let’s call him Ben. Ben’s problem was that he and his business partner had stopped communicating. Sound familiar? Every time they tried to talk about a difficult issue, it ended in an argument. Things were strained to say the least. While the business was still making money, it was no longer any fun. The level of fight they were in was obvious to me, but less so to them. Power of Persuasion can help to communicate across this difficult terrain.

Communication is part of our everyday existence. Not simply when we open our mouths to talk to someone but everywhere we look and listen (newspapers, TV, advertising, radio) we are participants in the act of communication.

In fact, everything we do is a communication. What we say, what we don’t say, what we wear, how we stand, the expression on our face – we are communicating all the time.

We do not operate on just one mode but most people have a mode they favour.

Once you know this, you can create way more productive exchanges with people around you. Hence, by addressing them on their favourite mode, you will be able to create a more efficient communication.

What Is the Point of Persuasion?

You may wonder why you should bother to learn how to persuade others. You might even consider such an “art” to be diabolical or manipulative. However, the truth is that every successful person has, at one time or another, been in a position where they had to persuade someone of something. For instance, most people have to persuade an employer to hire them before they can even begin to work and earn money.

Persuasion is about so much more than just getting someone to see things your way. It can actually be a great tool to ease workplace stress — you can use it to get your team aligned around a goal.

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.

Aristotle’s three main rhetorical devices are logos, which are appeals based on reason; pathos, which are appeals based on emotion; and ethos, which are appeals based on credibility and character.

Push Style Persuasion

The two most frequently used styles are Push and Pull. Each style is behaviourally distinctive and each is appropriate for different situations. The Push style goes like this:

  1. I have an idea or opinion that I share with you
  2. I tell you the reasons why it’s a good idea and/or why I’m correct
  3. You agree and you move your position.

Pull Style Persuasion

Pull style can also be effective when influencing upwards, where resistance is likely to be high, when there’s more than one option, when there are no time pressures and where any movement is better than none. It’s also useful in fostering collaboration and in coaching others to use their resources. Pull might take a little longer but the rewards outweigh the costs.

Pull style persuasion uses three different behaviours:

  1. Seeking Proposals (e.g. How should we best do this?),
  2. Seeking Information (e.g. Who has the relevant experience?) and,
  3. The rare but highly prized skill of Building – extending or developing a proposal made by another person.

Exercising Pull style goes like this:

  1. Ask the other people for their ideas
  2. They offer some options
  3. Then ask them some questions to explore their suggestions
  4. Build on their suggestions
  5. Together, agree a way forward.

Whilst Push style is the default for most people, and the style of choice in a distinct selection of circumstances, developing a Pull style is an essential counter-balance and will help you in engaging others, both internally and in the market.

Both styles are based on verbal behavioural skills. As with developing any skill, knowing what to do, practising it and getting feedback make for a stronger performance and an increased likelihood of success.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric Is Useful In The Power of Persuasion

Over two thousand years ago, a famous Greek teacher, scientist, and rhetorician, Aristotle, taught his students that there were three basic ways of convincing your audience of something—or at least getting your audience to listen to what you have to say. We still use these concepts today.

Intrigued? Let’s take a look

In short, it’s a framework for understanding the three main ways we persuade people to do something. Here’s the line-up:

Mode of persuasion How it works
Ethos (Ethical appeal) Persuading your audience by convincing them that your protagonist is credible
Pathos (Emotional appeal) Persuading your audience by appealing to their emotions
Logos (Logical appeal) Persuading your audience by using facts, logic, or reason

Ethos or the ethical appeal, means to convince an audience of the author’s credibility or character.

An author would use ethos to show to his audience that he is a credible source and is worth listening to. Ethos is the Greek word for “character.” The word “ethic” is derived from ethos.

For Example:

“Based on the dozens of archaeological expeditions I’ve made all over the world, I am confident that those potsherds are Mesopotamian in origin.”

Pathos (Greek for ‘suffering’ or ‘experience’), while often associated with emotions, is more broadly an appeal that draws upon the audience’s emotions, sympathies, interests, and/or imagination. With an appeal to pathos, the audience is encouraged to identify with the speaker or writer – to feel or experience what the writer feels. As the meaning of pathos implies, the audience “suffers,” in the realm of the imagination, what the rhetor suffers.

For Example:

“You will never be satisfied in life if you don’t seize this opportunity. Do you want to live the rest of your years yearning to know what would have happened if you just jumped when you had the chance?”

Logos refers to the logic, the words, and the reasons in your argument. It is important that everything you say fits together like links in a chain or pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to form a coherent statement or argument. When you think through and plan your talk, you organize your various points in a sequence from the general to the particular, from the start to the conclusion, with each point building on each previous point to form a persuasive argument.


“Doctors all over the world recommend this type of treatment.”

“The data is perfectly clear: this investment has consistently turned a profit year-over-year, even in spite of market declines in other areas.”

Good persuasive technique is when you balance all three. These three core pillars of persuasion set the foundation for connection between the audience and the speaker to be achieved. Though some people hold views on how important each component is, an application of all three components: Ethos, logos and Pathos allows for deeper development and support for persuasion to be expressed.

So Is Persuasion Good or Bad?

Like any other form of art, persuasion is neither positive nor negative in and of itself. It is how you use the art of persuasion, and for what purpose, that determines whether you’re contributing something worthwhile to the world.

The inability to persuade others can be a great handicap in life. You might have trouble getting a job, buying a home, or taking the next step in your relationship. On the other hand, you may find that you’re too easily convinced and fall for every scam presented to you. These factors will make you less vulnerable to deception.

A common misconception about the concept of persuasion is that it is the ability to convince your opponents to see things your way. The first step towards improving your persuasion skills is to overcome this fallacy. The best approach is to try and learn from others and negotiate a mutual solution that is a Win-Win for both parties. Persuasion is made easier if it is backed by integrity, respect, experience, and trust.

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