PR Wars Podcast: Power of persuasion

The word “persuasion” has a negative connotation, like a used car salesman manipulating you into something you don’t want. Can persuasion be used for good and what are the best ways to incorporate persuasion techniques in public relations? PR Wars podcast examines the power of persuasion.

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Announcer: It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars! Coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here is your host, Chris Shigas

Chris Shigas: Hey everyone, thanks for joining us. I’m Chris Shigas. Welcome to PR Wars.

Are you good? I’m good. Thanks for asking. Hey, let me ask you something. Have you checked your social media feed? Is it a war zone? Do your Facebook friends? Do they have opinions? And have you seen that app called Next Door with your neighbors? You would think that’d be super friendly.

Whoa, there’s a lot of talking. There’s a lot of arguing. I don’t know if there’s a lot of listening. Is this communication?

I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my favorite books. It’s called “How to Win Friends and Influence People” written by Dale Carnegie, way back in 1936. It’s a classic. I read it every couple of years, just to remind myself the principles in that book that are still relevant today. I heard someone over talking I was actually eating breakfast in a Waffle House. I live in Atlanta, so there’s a Waffle House on every corner.

I think for people who haven’t read the book, The name of the book sounds kind of creepy. Not so much “how to make friends.” It’s more about the “and influence people” part. The word “influence” or the word “persuasion” have a negative connotation, kind of like a used car salesman manipulating you into something that you don’t want… something that has a bad outcome. But you see, persuasion and influence are neutral words. They’re not intrinsically good or bad.

You can use persuasion for good. If you want to end systemic racism. You need to communicate. You need to persuade people. You need to move someone from one level of understanding to a new level of understanding. If you want to combat climate change, if you want to keep people safe during a pandemic, I mean, we try to persuade our children to look both ways before they cross the street. Is that a bad thing? Of course not. That’s using persuasion and influence for good. I want to convince my teenager to just say no to drugs… to not smoke cigarettes.

Now, persuasion is not arguing. Arguments don’t work. Arguments entrench people in their position. And even if you manage to objectively win an argument, you really didn’t win, because you are going to leave bad feelings or a bad perception in the other party once the communication is over. If arguments don’t work, then how do we persuade?

The origins of thinking about this type of rhetoric goes way back before 1936 in Dale Carnegie’s book, all the way back to ancient Greece and Aristotle, who had the rhetorical triangle. Aristotle said there were three ways to convince someone your point of view. Ethos, logos, and pathos. These are Greek words that Aristotle says, are the three ways that you can persuade someone to your way of thinking… to move their level of understanding from one place to the next level.

Now, let’s look at these. Ethos is credibility. I am knowledgeable about this topic. So you should believe what I have to say. So if you go to a doctor and the doctor prescribes you medicine, then you trust that doctor and you take the medicine that doctor persuaded you to take this medicine. The doctor used his or her ethos to convince you that what they’re saying is the right thing for you to do. You trust that doctor’s judgment, because you trust that doctor’s education to persuade you to do what that doctor wants.

Logos is the logical appeal. Okay, this is Mr. Spock on Star Trek. It’s logical that if you keep a high credit score, you’ll be able to get better interest rates and save money on a loan. The logical argument is designed to persuade you to pay your bills on time because that makes sense to you.

The third form of persuasion is pathos. Pathos is the emotional persuasion. This is playing on your emotions to do the right thing. You stay up late at night and you see the animal shelter Humane Society commercials with a puppy that needs your help. This is an emotional appeal to persuade you into an action.

If we look at these in the context of say, an issue like climate change, if you use ethos to make your position, you would be talking about how scientists are saying that climate change is real and likely caused by human behavior, and that the listeners should believe you because the scientists have ethos, they have credibility, they have education, they’ve looked into these things. The logos argument would explain how pollution impacts the greenhouse gases, how that affects weather patterns and we would look at more of the technical aspects of climate change, to logically make an argument about how human impact can alter the weather. The pathos argument would be the impact that these changes have on human life.

Now there’s actually a fourth component that Aristotle brought up and that’s called Kairos. Kairos kind of impacts all three of ethos, logos and pathos. Kairos is timing. Is it the right time for someone to be open to your message? There are times when someone is ready for a message. And there are times when people just are not ready. My wife is a teacher, and she talks about how important timing is for her students. Because sometimes her students go through the school day and they’re in this fog and this haze. But, there are other times when she seizes the moment because she realizes the student is open for what she calls a “teachable moment.” That means the Kairos is right. The timing is right for that student to accept what you have to say and to learn from it.

This ethos, logos and pathos. What does that mean for us as communicators? Each of these concepts affect different parts of your brain. So when you’re creating a message for your company, challenge yourself, challenge yourself to use all three of these techniques to use ethos in your messaging to use logos and pathos.

Don’t let your messages be all in one bucket. Don’t let all your messages be emotional appeals. Don’t let them all be logical like your Mr. Spock, use a mix. Have a complete toolkit of messages using credibility, using logic, using emotional appeal. Move perceptions and shape beliefs. Use that power of persuasion for good. Now, go get em’.

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