In tough economic times, the art of persuasion is a good business skill to have. As such, it may be good to consider, as writer M. J. Adler has, how the Greek philosopher Aristotle might rhetorically have sold an idea. Picture yourself persuading people to buy or use your product with a speech. To attract business, you must sell your product verbally, giving clients the information they need to hear to convince them. Aristotle would suggest that you use three elements in your speech or “sales talk,” which in Greek are ethos, pathos and logos.
Ethos is how you characterize yourself, not for the sake of self-aggrandizement, but for the sake of creating trust between you and the clients. Your clients need to know what expertise you have, what knowledge you have accumulated and what your experience on the matters at hand are. If you cannot convince your audience about what you bring to the table in terms of value, then they will not follow the rest of your speech closely nor will they believe what you say; therefore the first thing you have to do with your speech is create that ethos, and build a relationship between you and your client.
The next step relates to the concept of pathos, which is creating emotion in your clients. You want your audience to lean in a certain direction, not in order to confuse them, but in order to help them see the problem at hand and to look at it as an obstacle in the way of fulfilling their needs with your business. If your client is not stirred into thinking about your good or service in a certain, emotional way — understanding that they need or desire what you offer — then when you get to the third step, you will not have connected with the client and they simply will not feel on a gut level how important your message is.
Finally, you want to bring out the logos, which is the logic that will help to push through the idea that you have in mind and successfully bring your client with you on the journey. With pathos your client will reach a pitch of excitement and want to know where to go next to get the good or service he now realizes he needs. Alongside step two’s pathos, you are now able to show the logos or perfect solution or direction to the client. Certainly, there are many solutions to any given problem and other ideas may arise if you inculcate these good interaction between you and your client, but at least the one option or the one idea that you are proposing will be given due consideration as you speak.
When it comes to selling a good or service, use the art of rhetoric wisely. Think of it this way: in the Greek philosophical tradition, an “orator” used language and gesture to persuade others to act a certain way. The Sophists were teachers of rhetoric for those whose job it was to win lawsuits. Winning lawsuits is important, but using rhetoric just for the sake of winning is not the best or only use of rhetoric. Rather, be a “rhetorician” in your daily business, whether you are a dentist, a retail sales person or own a construction business. In the Greek philosophical tradition, to be a rhetorician has a deeper and more profound meaning: persuading others on a more general course of action, convincing them to take a certain attitude or motivating them to cultivate a certain value. As a rhetorician, you are not just arguing a point, you are setting a direction.
Now, on the other side of the equation, when you are listening to a sales talk or having a conversation about the purchase of a service or good, you need to learn to be an active listener. You want to constantly ask questions and consider other options. Do not follow blindly anything the speaker has to say, but rather try to make a connection with the speaker and the ideas presented. Indeed, to be a great speaker, requires one to be a great listener too. So, if you find yourself in a position to present your ideas to anyone about anything, try to listen to how your own ideas may sound and self analyze your comments. What questions will your listeners ask? Does the idea explain everything? Is there anything missing in the presentation? And will what I say really affect the listener personally?
Dr. Douglas B. Reynolds is a professor of economics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Management. He can be contacted at DBReynolds@Alaska.Edu. This column is brought to you as a public service by the UAF Community and Technical College department of Applied Business and Accounting.