Here’s How Aristotle Can Help You Master the Power of Persuasion

This ancient philosophy still rings true today.

Courtesy of thelefty / Shutterstock
Courtesy of thelefty / Shutterstock

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. The main principles behind persuasion can be traced back to ancient times. In fact, Aristotle developed three categories for this essential skill over 2,000 years ago in Rhetoric, his treatise dedicated to the art of persuading people

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, Michael Pfau, Ph.D., an associate professor of communications at University of Minnesota Duluth, tells Thrive. Here are a few strategies to transform these devices into tangible tips you can use both in and out of the office.

Use cold, hard facts. In order to build up personal credibility amongst your co-workers, it’s important to build rational arguments in the workplace based on logic, Pfau tells Thrive. Therefore, always make sure your justifications are fact-based. While emotional appeals can be effective in some cases, use them sparingly; Pfau warns that they can backfire if it seems like you’re trying to manipulate your audience. 

Connect with your colleagues. Ethos is all about making your arguments based on personal credibility, so it’s important to establish a positive personal image with your co-workers. Asking how you can help out a colleague or even just saying “thank you” more often can make a positive difference in your work relationships. By putting in the effort to build trust with your co-workers, you will establish your character as positive, reasonable, and cooperative.

Get to know your audience. Engaging with your co-workers often and practicing active listening can help you become familiar with their ways of thinking and your workplace culture. When you’re equipped with this knowledge, Pfau suggests making any case “in terms of common assumptions that are shared by the community.” Craft your arguments to match what your audience already believes. You will find much greater success by meeting your co-workers where their minds already are, rather than trying to change them.

These strategies will not only help you achieve your professional goals, but will also contribute to a more respectful and cohesive work environment overall.

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