Ancient Rhetoric With A Modern Twist: An Introduction to Logos, Pathos, and Ethos

Communication is about persuasion and persuasion is unavoidable. 

We are constantly persuading ourselves and others to take (or not take) certain actions. Part of communication fears stems from a lack of fundamentals in persuasion. Thankfully, we have the ancient rhetoricians to give us a simple guide to all forms of communication. 

The ancients did not invent rhetoric;  it was already inherent in us. Think of it this way: human beings did not invent anatomy. We simply gave names to the parts of the body we already had. Our sartorius muscle would still exist in us even if someone had not given that particular piece of flesh a name. 

Similarly, the ancient rhetoricians gave names to the elements of effective communication that were already in existence. While they did not invent what we use, they gave us a structure and a system to be able to teach it when communication was not effective. 

Rhetoric is as complex as anatomy. You can spend years studying and practicing it and still have more to learn about the way the body functions. Just like you don’t need to be a doctor to understand the basics of how our body works, you don’t need to be a rhetorician to understand how communication works either. 

The most important aspect of rhetoric is Aristotle’s three tools of persuasion: logos, pathos, and ethos.

Logos

Logos is logic. Think of logos as the foundation of a building. The foundation needs to be firmly set and organized in a scientific manner to support everything that the building will hold. A building with a weak foundation will have a lot of problems. 

Logos is the way that you organize and support your communication. There are a few key elements of Logos that serve as the foundation of your message: 

Focus on ONE idea at a time. 

It is a misnomer that our brains can multitask effectively. Yes, I can successfully eat and text and drive at the same time, but that doesn’t make me effective at any of those tasks. If you present too many ideas to your audience, your audience will get distracted. 

Identify the goal.

What do you want your audience to know? What do you want them to think about? What do you want them to think DIFFERENTLY about? Be clear as to the information you need to impart to them. 

Support your ideas. 

It is not enough to make a claim. You need to back that claim up with evidence. This can be quotations, research, statistics, and quantitative and qualitative data. Whatever it is, you need to show how this idea can and has worked elsewhere. 

Make a path. 

To drive to a new location, you need to input your address into your GPS system. That GPS system gives you step-by-step instructions on how to get to your destination. You need to do the same for your message. How are you getting your audience from point A to point B? 

Communication without logic is like picking up your friend for a party and not having the address of the party; you will drive them around in circles hoping you will get to where you want to get to. Meanwhile, you will lose time and probably lose a friend. 

Pathos

Pathos is emotion. Without pathos, we would communicate like robots. Pathos gives energy and enthusiasm to our message. It does not just add flavor to the conversation, it inspires people to action. Unless you are a robot, we take actions based on how that decision will make us feel. 

Pathos is the way to connect with your audience as human beings. There are a few key elements that will help you develop your pathos. 

Tell stories. 

Everything is a story and everything has a story. Our brains read stories like computers read code. We can’t help it. Stories are what bind us together and remind us that we are in a shared experience. 

Tell your face. 

If you say “I am so excited to be here to speak with you today…” make sure you tell your face. Your facial expressions will communicate more than your mouth will and the science says that we will always believe what we see before we believe what we hear. 

Ethos

Ethos is credibility. We can’t trust someone who is not reliable. That’s why we usually buy from brands and people that we know and trust. Ethos is what inevitably calls us to act.

Ethos is your integrity, it is your leadership. There are as many methods to build your ethos as there are books and programs on leadership. All of those methods and books will lead you to this truths about how to lead and communicate: 

Whatever you talk about, make sure you walk the talk. 

 

Really, there’s nothing more unavoidable or persuasive than that.