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How Aristotle Can Help You Get What You Want


The next time you are planning a prospective client meeting, marketing campaign, or team discussion, let Aristotle help you enhance your powers of persuasion. While he may have been focusing on democratic discourse in Ancient Greece, his three rhetorical appeals of persuasion (ethos, pathos, and logos) are more than relevant in today’s small business context.

Ethos, or ethical appeal, is Greek for “character”. When using ethos, an author must convince her readers that she is credible, good-willed, and actually worth listening to by making herself an authority on the subject matter at hand. The writer or speaker’s reputation, tone, and style work together to build ethos.

Even the source of information alone can serve as a form of ethos. For example, we assume that The Daily Record is a more credible source than The National Enquirer, so we automatically tend to trust those writers more. Similarly, we would probably trust Michael Jordan’s advice on how to execute a perfect layup, dunk, or alley hoop over Paris Hilton’s. Focus on developing your ethos so you not only appear but become the trusted expert when pitching to a new client, upselling your service, or closing a deal.

Pathos, or emotional appeal, is Greek for “suffering” or “experience”. Use pathos to make your audience feel emotion toward your product or service. Since it is not usually effective to say, “You should be crying now”, use pathos to your advantage by providing examples and language that tug at the heartstrings and compel people to act based on their emotions and personal identification with the topic.

Join the ASPCA's 150 Days of Rescue Campaign is a prime example of pathos. The visual of animals who are homeless or have been tortured, the use of celebrities and public figures to plead rhetoric evoke sympathy, and to take action by adopting a pet, donating or fundraising with ASPCA in order to save an animal's life. If you are a CPA or small IT company, enlisting pathos might take some creativity. But using examples of how you saved a small business on the brink of bankruptcy due to intensive oversight, or how you retrieved a proposal worth four million dollars off of a hard drive from a client’s laptop that was accidentally waterlogged when it toppled over into the Inner Harbor would arguably evoke even a minimal amount of emotion in the most hard-core small business owner.

Logos, or logical appeal, is Greek for “word”. When an author uses logical reasoning to persuade his readers, he is using logos. This can include numbers, facts, statistics, and supporting evidence. Just make sure that the numbers and facts you use are true and credible. Below is an example of logos on a Prius billboard. The numbers 52 MPG and 566 miles per tank serve as a logical appeal.

The importance of logos cannot be understated. Over and above ethos and pathos, logos acts as the non-negotiable, matter-of-fact, can’t argue with the numbers appeal. Logos should be used in everything from your resume to a clients status reports. Make sure the math adds up because your conclusion is only as good as your numbers.

So the next time you are looking to harness your powers of persuasion—whether it is a letter, a speech, advertisement, or client meeting—remember Aristotle’s rhetorical appeals. The ancients really did know their stuff!

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