No discussion on persuasion and influence can begin without a few words about Aristotle's famous dialectic on Persuasion. In his argument, Aristotle explores what he calls the three levels of persuasion: logos, pathos, and ethos.

In logos, we use logic and reasoning to persuade others to see things in a new way. As an example, let's say that I am talking to someone who can't see himself as valuable. So, I get the person to answer the following three questions.

Do you agree that anything capable of value is valuable?
Do you agree that honesty has value?
Are you capable of honesty?
Well, if you have agreed to all of the above, then logic dictates that you have also agreed that you are valuable.

Logos works best one-on-one, in small groups, and in writing, where you can focus your presentation on one issue at a time and lead your subject through a series of agreements. Logos does not work if your subject has an emotional hot button, feels emotionally distraught, doesn't trust you, or just doesn't value your judgment. In that case, you turn to pathos.

Pathos uses emotions, passion, empathy and feelings to build emotional discontent and to motivate people towards change. Pathos is used to gain individual attention, build group rumblings, create momentum, advertise products, start revolutions and win elections. Two types of emotions are used to build momentum. Positive emotions like pride, joy, fulfillment, meaningful contribution, recognition, love, compassion and honor. And negative emotions like prejudice, fear, uncertainly, doubt, greed, desperation, shame and guilt.

Whether people use negative emotions to motivate, or positive emotions to motivate, doesn't seem to influence how well pathos works. Both positive and negative emotions work extremely well. Look at how people were motivated by Hitler, Churchill, Jim Jones, Gandhi, Napoleon, Caesar Chavez, Mussolini, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Mother Teresa, Stalin, and every other charismatic leader. Whether your leaders use positive emotions to empower you, or negative emotions to imprison you, becomes irrelevant. They all know and use the power of empathic persuasion.

Which type of emotions should you build and empower? Remember contribution and compensation? If you build positive emotions, you will reap positive emotions. If you cultivate fear, you will live surrounded by fear.

The final level of persuasion uses ethos, a concept from which we derive the word ethics. Ethos requires integrity, character, wholeness, consistency and discernment. In essence, ethical people are a living example of the truth behind their arguments. They don't just say what they believe; they live what they believe. Their arguments and opinions speak for themselves, in the actions they choose to take. The consequences of their actions prove the truth behind their opinions.

To become truly influential, you need to understand and practice all three forms of persuasion. However, Aristotle believed, and I agree, that ethos is, by far, the most powerful and reliable of the three forms. Logos works as long as emotions remain under control. Pathos can move mountains; but emotions must constantly be fed, and are easily swayed by circumstance.
While ethos, Aristotle claimed, comes from within and can be counted on to send an accurate and consistent message. Seeing is believing. Believing is doing.

Ultimately, true persuasion only occurs when we experience the power of an idea for ourselves and make that idea our own. Ethos requires that we become more to others, before we expect more from others. Success in sales as well as life requires the same...

From A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules For Navigating Life, by Lynn Marie Sager copyright 2005

You can find more about persuasion, communication, and influence on Navigating Life's website. Simply go to, and visit Boarding for links to our full lessons on each.

Author's Bio: 

Lynn Marie Sager has toured over two-dozen countries and worked on three continents. Author of A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules for Navigating Life, Lynn currently lives in California; where she fills her time with private coaching, public speaking, and teaching for the LACCD and Pierce College. She runs the Navigating Life website, where she offers free assistance to readers who wish to incorporate the rules of worthwhile living into their lives. To read more about how you can use these rules to improve your life, visit Lynn's website.