For the summer months I thought I would like to share with you some of the great articles written by my Alliance Members. Please enjoy the following article submitted by Geoff Weinstein.
What does pathos (pronounced PAY-thos) mean to you?
Geoff is a big fan of Aristotle. The Greek philosopher developed in great detail the concept of effective or persuasive speaking and writing, which he called rhetoric. Aristotle said that to be persuasive, you have to appeal to people on one of three levels:
- Ethos, based on your credibility, position in society, or reputation as an expert. Ethos is about trust.
- Logos, based on logic, facts, evidence and other technical details.
- Pathos, based on human emotions like passion, empathy, compassion, pity, sympathy, or fear.
Ultimately, the most persuasive people are the ones who bring all three elements together.
You need ethos to earn a measure of trust, to get your foot in the door. You need logos, something intelligent to say, or people won’t respect you or your message. Think of Sarah Palin, who rode a wave of popularity but lost respect when she bumbled through a TV interview on the CBS evening news.
Then you weave pathos into your message. By evoking an emotional reaction, you get people’s hearts into the game. If you don’t, you’re creating just another pile of words that may or may not get read or heard. Think of that boring after dinner speech that put you to sleep.
So what does persuasion have to do with your e-mail to a colleague, or your next presentation? That e-mail or presentation isn’t just a message; it’s an exercise in influence.
In every workshop Geoff has delivered, he observed that people grossly underestimate the importance of how they communicate. They don’t realize that what they say and how they say it will determine if people take notice and take action.
But in particular, pathos is missing in almost all business communication, and if you don’t engage your reader’s heart, you’re not engaging the mind. Without either, you undermine your ability to influence.
Let us give you an example Geoff worked with a bank client who had submitted a 20-page report for approval. The team had spent months of effort to sum up an initiative that would make major change across the bank. But the team had hit a wall. The report wasn’t convincing the people who needed to approve the initiative.
When Geoff looked at the report, he could see why. It was driven by logos, the facts, something you’d think bankers would want, right? It focused on technical details and how the project would evolve. But it was totally devoid of pathos. It gave no hint of why the change was necessary, or how it would alter their world for the better.
Geoff advised chopping the report to just four pages. We cut out a lot of the technical details and focused on the pathos: how the change would help the department be more efficient and productive and make people’s lives easier. The client presented the report and had the project approved soon afterwards.
Be sure to include some pathos in all your communications. If you let facts and figures dominate, you’ll drive people away from your true message.
A final word of caution: in business, pathos doesn’t mean drama. It’s more subtle than the theatre. You have to tap into emotions through the back door!
Here are a few ways to work pathos into your communication:
- Use words that convey emotions or the emotional impact of a fact, and make sure a person is part of the action. For instance, instead of “It is recommended…” try “I strongly recommend…”
- Use plain language. For example, don’t feel you have to utilize something when you can just use it; don’t commence when you can begin; and so on.
- Use personal examples and stories that give meaning to facts.
- When speaking, use gestures and body language to create enthusiasm or set a mood.
Many business communications end with the formal and stilted “Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.” Here’s the more direct, human way I prefer to say it:
Give me a shout if you have any questions!