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Innovation Insights
by Stephen Shapiro

Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Today’s blog entry is from my new “innovation tips book.” But this is also an extremely useful concept in every day life. In fact, anyone who knows me eventually hears me say: “ethos, pathos, logos.” Selling is fundamental to your success – personally and professionally. Ethos, pathos, logos is a simple recipe for selling anything – products, services, or ideas.

Ethos, pathos, and logos are the three corners of Aristotle’s “Rhetorical Triangle” – the use of language to persuade. Ethos is credibility, pathos is empathy, and logos is logic. I find that selling your ideas using this construct, in that order, leads to more persuasive arguments.

Ethos: First, establish your credibility. You need to get people to listen to your ideas. They will only listen if you have credibility. Why should they believe you? So, before trying to sell your ideas, make sure people believe you, trust you, and want to listen to you. Maybe you can start with a story that establishes your credibility. When someone hears that I was the cover story in O, The Oprah Magazine and I am one of Tom Peters’ “Cool Friends,” they listen to me differently. Testimonials and trusted references build credibility. Do this first, without sounding like you are hyping yourself, because at the end of the day, you are there to create value for others. This leads to the second step…

Pathos: Create an emotional bond with others. Speak their language. Address their needs. Tell them what they will get out of paying attention. Why should they care? This is all about context. Remember, people rarely listen to the emergency procedures when an airplane is taking off, but they are highly attentive when the plane is about to crash. You must get people to the point where they really want to hear what you have to say about the proposed solution.

Logos: Finally, after addressing credibility and empathy, you get to the solution. Features and functions. How will the change be implemented? How will it affect them? What do they need to do differently? What actions do you want them to take?

Want a successful change effort? If so, you must be able to sell your ideas. In order to sell your ideas, you need to understand how people make decisions. People rarely make decisions intellectually, they make them emotionally. Ethos, pathos, logos is a powerful, emotionally-driven, non-manipulative formula for persuading others to take action.