The ancient Greeks considered rhetoric an essential leadership skill. Rhetoric being the ability to inform, persuade and motivate others. It was considered so important that it was central to all Greek higher education. In ancient times rhetoric was a core part of leadership development and it was taught to ensure leaders were able to speak and write persuasively.
Rhetoric a Critical Leadership Skill
Communication is central to the work of leadership. Effective leaders know this and spend a significant amount of time communicating, seeking to influence, persuade and inspire. Given this you would think the study of rhetoric would be taught today as part of a well rounded leadership development program. But you would be mistaken. The sad reality is that most leadership development programs don’t teach rhetoric or consider it important for the development of leaders.
One of the best places to start exploring the topic of rhetoric and persuasion is by reading the work of Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher and scientist. In around the 4th century B.C. Aristotle compiled his thoughts on persuasion into the book “Rhetoric”. This book includes a description of his theory the identifies and describes the three primary appeals leaders use to persuade an audience. Aristotle named these three appeals Pathos, Ethos and Logos, all Greek words.
- Ethos: This appeal concerns persuasion through the strength of the speaker’s credibility and character. We are persuaded by people we judge as credible, competent and ethical.
- Pathos: This appeal concerns persuasion through emotion and empathy with the audience. We are persuaded to act when they are led to feel something.
- Logos: This appeal concerns persuasion through logic. We are persuaded by data, facts, evidence and reason.
Ethos: Persuade with Character
Ethos (Greek for “character”) is related to the English word ethics. Ethos is an ethical appeal and means convincing by character. It refers to the trustworthiness and credibility of the speaker or author. Pathos works to persuade when we believe that the speaker is credible – they know what they’re talking about – and ethical – they do not intend to harm us. We are persuaded by others who are competent, have expertise, authority, integrity and character. For example we trust the advice of doctors because we believe they know what they’re talking about and that they are good people.
Logos: Persuade with Logic
Logos (Greek for “an opinion” or “a ground”) is the foundation for the English word logic. The appeal works because of the structure of the message, the logic of it’s reasons, the supporting facts and evidence. Logic appeals using reason, supporting information, data, facts and evidence as it’s tools.
Pathos: Persuade with Emotion
Pathos (Greek for “suffering” or “experience”) and is related to the English words sympathy or empathy. Pathos works by appealing to the audience’s emotions. It triggers the audience to respond emotionally to the speakers argument. When we accept an appeal because of the way it makes us feel, we’re being persuaded by pathos. Whist appeals to reason changes our thinking, emotional appeals trigger action. Emotional appeals are best used for moving people to decision and action.
The Power of Three
Effective leaders use all three appeals together in an integrated way. Effective persuasion happens when you take time to the ensure you’re credible, to using logic to change thinking and when you use emotion to move people to action.
The next time you have a message and you need persuade others explore the use of the three rhetorical appeals. It will dramatically increase your effectiveness.