Do you have the tools of persuasion?

Friday, November 9, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 45

Persuasion involves providing sound reasons for doing something and getting others to take action on your request. Sales professionals use persuasion to sell products, medical professionals use persuasion to sell healthy lifestyle choices, managers use persuasion to sell ideas, parents use persuasion (but often default to the old standard, “Because I said so!”) to get their children to do things. In other words, most of us frequently find ourselves in situations that call for us to persuade others of something.

Yet most of us have had little or no formal training in the process of successfully persuading others.

Of my 17 years of formal education, the closest I got to any kind of persuasion training was during a speech course in college. We were required to prepare and deliver a five-minute persuasive speech. It was the 1970s and my assignment was to persuade my classmates not to smoke marijuana – a challenging assignment in that era, to say the least.

I got a decent grade on the speech from my straight-laced, nerdy speech professor and a lot of chuckles from the pot smokers in the class. I doubt if anyone flushed his or her stash because of my dazzling grade-A rhetoric. Cheech and Chong apparently provided much more convincing arguments on the pro side countering any and all of my cons.

Five minutes out of 17 years; not what you might call comprehensive coverage of the topic.

More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle articulated some pretty sound ideas related to persuading others with his ethos, logos, pathos model. He referred to these three techniques as modes of persuasion. In a nutshell, you do things to establish your credibility as a speaker (ethos), things to appeal to your audience’s sense of logic (logos) and then do things to appeal to or stir their emotions (pathos).

Translated into practical action, that would be do your homework (know your topic, product, cause, etc.), make specific and compelling logical connections illustrating why your audience should take action on your request, and relate your request to something the audience feels strongly about experiencing or avoiding.

Use one of these modes of persuasion; you increase the odds that you will successfully persuade others. Use all three and maximize your chances of success. It seems that ethos and logos do a pretty good job of getting someone up to the edge of making a decision, but pathos seems to trigger the tipping-point-moment for deciders. Who knew the deciding structures of the brain were more like Dr. McCoy than Mr. Spock?

Think about the three modes of persuasion when you set out to persuade someone of something.

Establish your credibility, explain your logic, make the connection to something you know your audience wants to happen or wants to avoid happening, and then switch to the standard sales model for getting a decision: Ask for the order and then use the silent closing technique – be quiet.

Or, if none of this makes sense to you, try saying, “Because I said so!”

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through