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The North Win and the Sun: Persuasion, Leadership and Negotiation

Consider this Aesop’s fable:

The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as he could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.

The lesson?  Persuasion achieves more than force…certainly in the long run.

In this blog I want to analyze the role of persuasion in leadership and negotiation.  Frankly, any leader and negotiator would be completely ineffectual without the ability to persuade others.  I often ask students to raise their hand if they think they are persuasive.  Almost all do, because most think they are persuasive.  However, it is not so easy and many of us are much less persuasive than we think…some find out the hard way.

One of the best ways to think through being persuasive was articulated by Aristotle in his book Rhetoric published some 2300 years ago.  In the book Aristotle discussed the three means of persuasion – Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.  This short framework is really helpful to plan how to be effective and to think broadly about the different ways to persuade others.  Here is an explanation that both leaders and negotiators should take to heart to improve their ability to persuade others.

Ethos is the credibility and trustworthiness that you possess.  Why should someone listen to you?  Are you the right messenger and, if so, why?  Do you have authority and a track record that gives you a platform to be heard?  If not, how can you create such a platform? And if you don’t have time to create a platform can you find the right messenger to deliver the message for you?  So part of being persuasive is — are you the right person to make the case for something?

As a leader and negotiator Ethos is critical.  Without credibility people simply won’t listen to all of your knowledge or follow you where you want to go.

Pathos is the emotional connection or bond that you make with the person you are trying to persuade.  Often times when one is trying to persuade another it comes down, not to logic, but rather to feelings and connecting with people at that level.  This is what Pathos is all about.  Stories, examples, and empathy are a very good way to persuade with this mode.

The most effective leaders and negotiators know how to paint a picture of something AND also how to draw you into that picture through an emotional tug.  As Maya Angelou stated “People will forget what you said.  People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made me feel.”

Logos is the logical case that you make to someone.  Certainly in the Western world this is where most of gravitate toward when it comes to persuasion.  We try to create a logical and reasoned case as to why someone should do something.  While this is often effective, it is problematic when either Ethos or Pathos is really what is going on for the other person.  The other challenge to remember when it comes to Logos is to create the logical case from the perspective of the person you are trying to persuade.  We often make the mistake of creating a logical case from OUR perspective and then cannot figure out why it did not resonate with the other person.

Of course, eventually Logos becomes important.  If you don’t have Logos than many a persuasive case will falter.  Leaders and negotiators have to be able to eventually connect the dots or they will lose the other.

To put a bow around this blog post, let me share a real world story of how this works in practice. I was working with a company conducting a negotiation training last year.  After I explained this framework to the group a woman came up to me and said something like this, “I have been stuck with a problem that I have been working on for a client for the past 3 months.  I thought I had figured it out and presented a very logical (Logos) case to them that really made a lot of sense.  They rejected my solution almost immediately.  I was puzzled and could not understand what happened…until now.  What I am now realizing is that they really wanted to hear some Pathos from me – an acknowledgement that I truly understood their problem and had it all under control.  Had I just done that the problem would have been solved.”

So, in short, there are three means of persuasion – Ethos, Pathos and Logos.  Use the framework to prepare and look for clues as to which is most important to the other.


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