Persuasion / Persuasión


When I work with managers developing their leadership skills, we usually talk a lot about how they make decisions. Complexity, non-linearity, and uncertainty shape a context, in which making decisions is certainly difficult. And yet, making decisions is only one side of the coin. The other side is persuasion, an art that every leader should master.

Convincing instead of giving orders

Leaders in the past maybe could afford to make decisions, and then giving the order to make things happen exactly as they said. But that kind of autocratic leader will not survive today.

Power is more distributed than ever along the organization. The context calls for cooperation and collaboration. And complex decisions require many people involved to get things done. In this scenario, and even being sure of what the decision is, leaders need to sell it, specially to those who weren’t involved in the decision-making process. Otherwise, people won’t commit, and results will be worse.

Pathos, logos and ethos

Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion”. Rhetoric is based on three pillars: pathos (the emotion), logos (the logic), and ethos (the ethics). He believed that persuasion should lay on the three of them to be really effective.

There is a fourth element in Aristotle’s rhetoric: the audience. When he talks about emotions, logic or reasoning, and ethics, it’s always in relation with the audience.

Persuasion is not about the speaker, it’s always about the audience: emotions can drive a person to act in ways a purely logical argument could not; appealing to logic allows people to reason about the issue and understand the information, leveraging our innate sense of rationality. And ethics, broken into knowledge, trust and goodwill, are the most persuasive element once the speaker shows that they are credible, expert on the subject, and want the better for the audience.

Rhetoric and the golden circle

Simon Sinek’s golden circle combined with Aristotle’s rhetoric can help us improve our persuasion techniques.

According to Sinek, starting with why helps leaders to identify their purpose and influence audience’s behavior, communicating it meaningfully.

Of course, you can approach that purpose with different strategies. What happens when you combine Aristotle’s rhetoric with the why? Persuasion.

You can build it using different strategies. But the most effective one is to combine pathos, logos and ethos in your speech:

Build your why by knowing your audience to understand how to flame their emotions; appealing to their rationality to evaluate the proposal, and making yourself credible, gaining their trust.

Be careful. There is a fine line between persuasion and manipulation. That’s why leaders should care about what is good for the audience, and not what is good for their decisions.