Effective persuasion through ethos,
pathos and logos
As learning professionals, it is our lot to
try our best to be persuasive, whether
we're trying to convince stakeholders to
go with what we believe will be the best
solution to their problem, persuade
learners and their managers to engage
with our interventions, or sell learners on
a new way of working. You could say we
were in the persuasion business.
Increasingly, we are adopting new
persuasion strategies, drawing upon
fields as diverse as behavioural
economics and neuroscience, fuelled by
a plethora of scientific and not-soscientific studies. We're looking to up
our success rate by better
understanding how humans make
decisions in different situations.
But it is foolish to disregard the insights
gained by those that came before us.
Maybe thousands of years ago they
didn't have access to big data, but
some of them certainly did have big
A good example is Aristotle, born in 384
BC and considered the Father of
Western Philosophy. In circumstances
that are probably pure coincidence, at
three separate recent events, I have
been recommended to Aristotle's
'modes of persuasion' as a tool that has
plenty of contemporary value.
I decided to take a look.
Aristotle's Rhetoric defines three means
for appealing to your audience: ethos,
pathos and logos. Now before you say
that this is all Greek to you, let me
explain what these terms mean.