More on Persuasion — a Follow Up to Bob’s Q #122: How to become more persuasive?

(Note to our readers — normally I would simply leave a comment on Bob’s blog post, but this one needs more room).

I really liked Bob’s post, Q #122:  How to become more persuasive. There is nothing I disagreed with, but here are some thoughts I would like to add to the conversation.

Much of what he said is confirmed by the great thinkers in rhetoric.  Aristotle spoke of the three primary means of persuasion:  logos (the logical appeal), pathos (the emotional appeal), and ethos (the ethical appeal).  Bob spoke of four critical factors, including (in shorthand form) credibility, pathos/passion leading to a deep emotional connection between speaker and audience, and other great bridge-building traits that connect speaker to audience.

At the heart of ethos is the idea of, the centrality of, credibility.  Here’s a simple and compelling illustration.  Normally, the better speaker (i.e., the more dynamic speaker) is the most persuasive.  But if the subject discussed is airline safey, no one could match the current credibility of Chesley Sullenberger (the pilot who landed a plane successfully in the Hudson River).  Though he is also a clear and compelling communicator, his credibility is so far off the charts that his persuasive abilities in the arena of airline safety would truly be unmatched.

But, as persuasive as these factors are, there is a step that comes before them all.  This step is what the ancients described by the word stasis:  bringing the audience to a complete standstill in their thinking.  In order for anyone to be persuaded to change in any way — in their thinking, their attitude, their behavior — the audience member has to understand:  “something is wrong about my current state. My thinking is off; my behavior is not working; my attitude is contributing to the problem.” As long as a person thinks all is ok as it is, no persuasion is possible.  Stasis is that moment when a speaker helps the individual stop and think:  “I have got to make a change!” When that happens, and only when that happens, will persuasion then become possible.

Bob’s post provides great tools to help that happen — to bring the person to that moment of standstill, and then to point to a new direction.

But bringing the audience/the person to a moment of true stasis — to a true moment of standstill, and the acknowledgement and realization that something has to change — that is the great challenge of persuasion.

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