As a professional in the business world, influencing colleagues is an important part of your role. Yet strangely, it is a topic that is hardly ever taught – not at school, at college, nor in most professional training.
It has not always been this way. Back in the classical era, running right through the Middle Ages and the renaissance period, lawyers, doctors, and financiers would have learned the skills of influence and persuasion as a fundamental part of their professional education.
And the skills that your predecessors learned will work just as well for you, today. It all starts with the observation by Aristotle that a persuasive argument requires three elements. This is worth knowing, because most of us explicitly learn only one of them. In the order in which they work most effectively, they are:
Ethos: character, authority, trustworthiness. People want to know that you are someone whose opinion is worth listening to.
Logos: reason, logic, argument. This is what most of us trained for – the ability to evaluate the evidence and put together a well-reasoned case.
Pathos: emotion, values, caring. Most of the time, the decisions we make are based on the way we feel; not on what we think. We then use rational argument to justify ourselves.
If you have been basing all of your persuasion solely on logos, you will be used to being right and yet not being believed, or being believed, but seeing decision-makers ignoring your counsel. It is time to incorporate ethos and pathos into your argument. Let’s examine a few simple yet effective techniques to make each of the three elements work at their best.
There are three main elements to ethos, and the first is authority. In particular, the authority that comes from being an expert, from having studied, and therefore from knowing what you are talking about. But we sometimes let or credibility drip away, by not presenting ourselves at our best. If you want to be as influential as the most senior professionals, look the part. Dress smartly and use good quality accessories like your pen and notebook. Make your argument clearly, so I have no doubt how well you understand it. Paradoxically, perhaps, jargon and complex language leave listeners doubting your credibility and truthfulness.
The second aspect of ethos is your trustworthiness. When you try and persuade people of something, this is the first thing they try to establish for themselves. When meeting someone for the first time, establish your credibility with a business card and a short description of your professional expertise. Finally, to establish your ethos, you have to persuade me that you understand my issues and concerns. Listen to politicians: this is what they spend most of their time doing.
You know your stuff, but how logical is the way you arguefor what you want me to understand and act on? Most often, it will make great sense to you, but maybe not to the person listening. Spend time honing your ability to explain the complex in simple ways. This is not about over-simplifying, but about showing that you understand your argument well enough to present it in a compelling way.
In How to Speak so People Listen, I offer eight examples of structured response frameworks: simple structures that you can use to make your point in a compelling and powerful way. Here is an example that I call the Hook, Line, and Sinker framework.
Hook: establish the pressure, the need, or the compelling reason for me to pay attention: “The level of risk to our portfolio has risen beyond the levels we set as acceptable in our last strategy review.”
Line: set out a solution or a compelling offer: “If we were to diversify our property holdings across a broader spread of countries, we would re-balance our risk profile.”
Sinker: offer a convincer that demonstrates the soundness or desirability of your recommendation: “The level of activity in the property markets that is creating the volatility I am concerned about also makes it a good time to divest and re-invest.”
It is tempting to ignore pathos in the business world: where is the proper place for emotions at work? But you do so at your peril because few of us are as coldly logical as we’d like to believe, when we make decisions. Instead, we are also influenced by bias, values, and feelings. The role of logos is principally to give people the evidence that they can use to justify the decision they make with their instinct or their heart.
Fear is, without doubt, the strongest motivator for decisions. Especially where we fear a loss. In this case, we will often take risks that we would never otherwise have countenanced. Be very careful how you use this, therefore. Those risks may not be rational and may lead to problems. However, if you need me to act on a legitimate threat, then spelling out the consequences, the signs that it is real and imminent, and likelihood of it happening, is the strongest way to enhance your argument.
Desire is the second of these emotional motivators. If you can start my emotional movement with a little kick of fear, it will often be desire for the positive consequences that will sustain my motivation.
Finally, we have duty. This takes a number of forms, like our duty to keep our word, when we have made a promise, or our duty to reciprocate a favour or a concession. Loyalty is also an emotion linked to duty. So emphasise, as appropriate, how your recommendation is consistent with something I have already said, endorsed, or even committed myself to. Or link your request to a favour you did for me, or a concession you granted me some time ago. This way, I will feel a duty to reciprocate, out of fairness. And you can link your recommendation to the welfare of people or institutions I care about, so that my loyalty will almost compel me to accept your recommendation.
You may notice that this whole article is structured into a hook (influencing colleagues is important; yet you were probably never taught how), a line (here are three things: ethos, logos, and pathos, that will help you) and now, a promised sinker.
This should not come as a surprise to you. Everything in this article should have the ring of common sense truth to it. You have spent enough time using some of these and experiencing them all, but probably without realizing it. They work – not by magic, but by the pressures of human psychology. So, is you want to be a more effective professional, and to rise through your career building professional alliances a you go… you’d better get influencing. You had better polish up the swords of your three influential musketeers: ethos, logos, and pathos.
The “Black and White” effect: we evaluate an offer or an idea in the context of others that are available for comparison. Offer to or three options, where your recommendation is clearly the strongest.
The “eight out of ten cat owners” principle: we often default to making a safe decision – one which the people around us have already made. Show case studies and testimonials to support your argument.
The “Narrower is deeper” effect: we find narrow expertise more credible than general competence, so emphasise your depth of knowledge, and do not offer opinions outside your core area of expertise.
The “I’m gorgeous, fly me” principle: we are more easily influenced by people we like – so make yourself likeable by getting to know me, sharing my interests, and presenting yourself well.