Persuasiveness has fallen into a bad light these days. Some may actually see it as a negative trait due to stereotypical images of pushy sales people and overpromising politicians.
Persuasiveness can easily become contentiousness with a polarization of viewpoints, which we see all the time on social media (and we always hear, “You’ll never win anyone over to your side on social media”). Yet, that seems to be the most common arena for trying to be persuasive. Further, there can even be a very fine line between persuasiveness and manipulation. So, in today’s culture, can we be legitimately persuasive? Can persuasion be a truly positive character trait?
We can go back almost 2,400 years to find answers. Aristotle taught that a person’s ability to persuade others is based upon three forms of appeal: ethos, logos and pathos. Ethos (actually the Greek word for character) is about one’s ethical appeal or credibility to speak on a subject; logos is the logical argument for one’s position; and pathos is an appeal to emotions. Together, these three determine the success of persuasion, but the foundational requirement is credibility. Aristotle described ethos as “persuasion through character” and wrote, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”
I had a college professor, Dr. J.C. Hicks, who taught us that credibility can only be given to you by another and that it can never be assumed or easily earned. He would say that you can’t make someone trust you. You can only behave in a way that allows others to choose to trust you. Dr. Hicks would say that to gain credibility, it is helpful to be authentic, reasonable, consistent, trustworthy, a person of integrity and finally, a truly caring person. As we’ve all heard, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
So, according to the reasoning (or logos) of Aristotle and Dr. Hicks, it is clear that to be persuasive, one must not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. Actions really do speak louder than words.
In summary, persuasiveness is founded on credibility, and is built over time and consistency of character. In a day of widespread mistrust, to be persuasive, find your own natural integrity of character that displays some combination of humility, authenticity, trustworthiness and caring for others.
At a time when spin seems to rule the day, people are looking for real. To be truly persuasive, be yourself, be trustworthy, be real.