Perhaps the most influential Greek philosopher out there is Aristotle. He was also a brilliant teacher, and his lessons can be found in a book called Rhetoric. By definition, rhetoric is the art of improving upon the ability to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. Aristotle considered it a counterpart to both logic and politics.
His book teaches that the most powerful tool of persuasion is ethos, or image. If people love you, they’ll follow you anywhere and do what you ask of them. Aristotle taught that a compelling character is more persuasive than perfect logic. Even research today shows that just 5% of our buying decisions are based on logic. In other words, image trumps logic.
So how can we apply Aristotle’s Rhetoric teachings to our businesses or everyday life? It can be summed up in just three words: Caring, Craft, and Cause.
Caring means your audience – customers, colleagues, family, friends – believe you have their best interest at heart. Remember the movie Jerry Maguire? Five minutes into the film, Jerry (played by Tom Cruise) recalls the words of his great sports agent mentor saying, “The key to this business is personal relationships.” He then continues with his epiphany. “Fewer clients. Less money. More attention. Caring for them, caring for ourselves and the games, too.”
Aristotle called Caring eunoia (you-NOY-ah). Loose translation: selflessness. In persuasion, the important thing is not just to be selfless, but also to convince your audience that you truly are. When was the last time you overheard someone say “I’ve always gone the extra mile for my clients”?
When it comes to entertainment, Randy Bartlett describes it best – that our “job is to help people have one of the greatest days of their lives.” He says that your motivation must be to do whatever you can to make this event the best that it can be.
Being crafty is about knowing your stuff and making your audience know you do. A crafty individual knows the difference between following the rules and truly choosing wisely. This is your MacGyver moment.
Apollo 13 is a movie, but based on a real historical event. When the flight malfunctioned in space, NASA engineers had to literally fit a square peg into a round hole. In producing a working CO2 scrubber, they used only what they had on board, including the cover of the flight manual. It really doesn’t get much more symbolically crafty than that!
The word phronesis (fro-NEE-sis) is Aristotelian for Craft. Its literal translation: Practical wisdom. Aristotle thought that practical wisdom was the key to happiness, and he was right.
Crafty people know when and how to bend the rules. Crafty people know how to improvise. Craft means fine-tuning solutions to specific problems. When consulting with your clients, I always encourage two types of listening: Active listening to learn what truly matters to them (what they are saying), and perceptive listening to read between the lines (what they are thinking).
The next time someone asks you a question, throw our your industry rulebook and simply answer with, “that depends.” Where is the best place to deliver toasts? That depends on the on the room, the lighting, and if the guests are seated or standing. What’s the best client management system (CRM) on the market? That depends on the business.
Cause is your audience’s belief that you stand for something larger. You share their values and represent them perfectly. In 1883, the United States Marine Corps adopted the motto “Semper Fidelis.” A Latin phrase, it stands for “always faithful,” and guides Marines to remain faithful to the mission, to each other, to the Corps, and to their country – no matter what.
Aristotle believed cause to be Arête (AR-uh-tay), or “virtue” – behavior showing high moral standards. A great cause embodies the values of the audience. In Jerry Maguire, when Jerry is on the phone and asks what he can do for Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Rod’s response is, “It’s a very personal, very important thing. Hell, it’s a family motto…”
Like Jerry Maguire, you need to discover what is the most important thing to you – or rather, the cause that will make your audience love you? A good cause is summed up in just a couple of words.
Rod’s cause? “Show me the money.”
So let’s beef up your ethos. Perform a character check on your website copy, your emails, sales meetings, even that elevator pitch you’ve been tossing around for a while now. Search for elements of Caring, Craft, and Cause. Really show where you’ve gone the extra mile for your clients. Don’t just list achievements, show innovative solutions to specific problems, and make sure to state a cause that appeals to your target market. Eventually you’ll find yourself trying to balance Caring, Craft, and Cause in your daily life. People will love you for it.
This article was inspired by the best-selling book Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion, by author Jay Heinrichs.
This article by Jason Spencer first appeared in the June 2015 edition of Disc Jockey News. All rights reserved.