Methods of persuasion

12 Apr

To convince vs. to persuade

Before I go into the means of persuasion it is important to distinguish between types of persuasion. In the Dutch language both are called “overtuigen”, but the English language makes a difference between to persuade and to convince. The main difference is that convincing is aimed more at showing you are right at the expense of someone else, who has to be wrong, as it comes from the Latin meaning ‘to conquer’, while persuasion comes from the Latin meaning ‘to seduce’. In other words, when persuading someone, you are ‘seducing’ that person to your standpoint using much more softer methods. This way of getting people to agree with you is often used in 1 on 1 discussions, advertisements, sales and of course seduction itself. Convincing on the other hand is aimed at showing your position is stronger that the other’s position, often using harder methods. This type is often used in debates, US court cases and 1 on 1 discussion, though the latter will often be much more heated.

In general, ‘convincing’ is more effective when trying to convince a third party to choose your position over an opponent’s, while ‘persuasion’ is more effective when directly trying to persuade someone of your position. If you try to convince someone in a direct discussion, then you try to do so showing the other is ‘wrong’, which is often not effective as they will try to defend their ego and put up an emotional blockage. On the other hand when you persuade someone, you seduce them to your position, which does not lead to a loss in the other’s eyes. On the other hand if you try to seduce your audience, while being attacked by your opponent, you are far less effective, when you don’t actively defend your position against his of her attacks.

In the end context determines which mode is most effective, but both methods use the same tools of persuasion, they just apply them differently. I will use the terms persuasion and convincing here interchangeably as the tools are the same, but keep in mind the subtle difference between the two in terms of application.

Means of persuasion

According to Aristoteles there are three main methods of persuasion:

  • Ethos
  • Pathos
  • Logos

Ethos is convincing people by means of establishing your credibility as an objective expert, or as someone with a reputable character. Convincing with Ethos is done by gaining acceptance of the audience, gaining their trust and establishing your credibility. Gaining acceptance is best explained by creating some kind of rapport with your audience, or in other words making them like you in a way that will lead them to accept your message more than that of your opponent. Gaining their trust is all about ensuring people will accept you as an expert, or someone who’s opinion counts as an opinion that is worthy listening to and worthy of consideration. Lastly establishing credibility has as a goal to ensure that your audience believes your message and more importantly believes that you are objective and not likely of misleading them for your own purpose. The reason being that people are often unable to fully check the facts of your message.

Pathos is persuading people by means of appealing to their emotions, fears, desires and by presenting your case in an appealing and convincing way. Persuading by means of pathos is all about ensuring a connection with the audience and ensuring the message is more attractive than your opponent’s. This starts by presenting your case in an appealing way, which means making sure you appeal to all the senses of your audience including their emotions. No one wants to hear a boring listing of arguments and facts instead people like stories, anecdotes, visualizations, heartfelt appeals, etc. This will not only lead audiences to accepting your message more, but will also make your message easier to remember. Charisma as a speaker and being able to speak with passion about a subject also helps in this respect. Lastly you need to appeal to the audience’s fears, desires and needs. This will ensure you get their attention, as it makes a message instantly relevant and important. If you can show your position will fulfill their desires and take away their fears than will want your position to be true as it will make their lives better.

Logos is convincing people by means of using argument, reasoning and evidence in order to support your position. You convince people with logos by making clear logical argument, that are supported by solid evidence. The arguments themselves are organized in your speech in a clear and structured way. The most boring of the three, but nevertheless the most important of the three. Without logos, yo have no content and without content your speech will be vacuous. No murderer will be sentenced without some form of evidence, no-one will be follow you merely on your reputation. That reputation needs to be baked up with knowledge, arguments and smart reasoning. Much literature provides evidence that in the end logos is not very important in convincing people, showing facts that non-verbal communication (pathos) is more important than verbal communication for example. This is true, but doesn’t make logos any less important. You should look logos as a hygiene requirement for persuasion. You need to have it, or in other words you should have done your homework. This doesn’t mean people want to hear everything you know, but it does mean that when challenged on it, you need to be able to respond effectively and show evidence where this is needed.

In the end the most effective way of persuasion uses all three methods in unison putting emphasis on one over the other based on the context. In an academic context, Logos will be more important, while when giving a rallying speech, Pathos is much more important. I will delve deeper into each of these three in following articles.


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