What’s the most important part of an email?
If you said, ‘The subject header!’ you’d be wrong.
When you get an email, you don’t look at the subject header first. You look at the sender. You’ll open an email with NO subject header if it’s from your boss.
And when you’re arguing for something (a proposal, a request), your success depends on your reader’s perception of YOU.
As Deepak Chopra said, ‘WHO you are speaks louder than anything you can say.’
But he didn’t say it first. Aristotle did, 2300 years ago.
How Ethos impacts your influence
Aristotle said the character of the arguer — Ethos — is critical. A dodgy used-car salesman might have the arguments (Logos) and passion (Pathos), but he fails to persuade because people don’t TRUST him.
I can hear you now: ‘But Paul, I’m a great guy/girl. Of course my reader/listener trusts me!’
I’m sure you are. But perception is reality. Do they, deep-down, know you’re trustworthy? Are you omitting things that could help them trust you more? Are you doing or saying things in ways that make them doubt you?
The infobesity epidemic we’re in makes your readers incredibly time-poor. They make snap judgments constantly, including about you and your cred — your ethos.
So how can you boost your ethos? Here are 5 ways:
1. Specifics sell
Mealy-mouthed salespeople spout generalities: ‘Our system is the best on the market!’ Really? By what standard? Is it the best quality? The most efficient? The highest selling?
Readers trust you more when you quantify: ‘System X is twice as fast as its nearest competitor.’ More credible. Stronger ethos.
2. Immaculate data
Years ago I ran a networking group called the Last Thursday Club. One day I wrote excitedly to my database to say I’d secured a New York Times best-selling author to speak to our group. Many wrote back and said, ‘Great, Paul! … When is he coming?’ I’d forgotten to include the event date. Hardly immaculate data.
So help readers trust you more by showing you’ve covered all their likely questions. (Another reason why it’s important to know your audience, and their reactions, well.) Like a journalist, answer the ‘5 Ws & H': Who, What, Why, When, Where and How.
3. Worst first: Go ugly early
A pharmaceutical company CEO once told me he can sense when his staff are hiding bad news. When they try to butter him up, dwell on minor good news, or evade questions, he calls them on it. He wants the worst news first so he knows where he stands, rather than have it drip-fed to him.
People are more likely to respect and trust you if they know you’ll tell them the truth instead of what you think they want to hear. It’s about being a trusted advisor. And it boosts your ethos.
4. Tell them who, not just what
One of the most common errors we see in our course attendees’ writing samples is passive voice. That’s where you say WHAT was done, but not WHO did it.
For example, ‘It is suggested that …’ is passive voice. But, ‘The legal team suggests that …’ is active voice, because you now know the ‘actor’ and not just the ‘action’.
Clarity and trust take a quantum leap with active voice. So does your ethos.
5. Near enough is bad enough
Nothing says ‘I’m average’ more than sloppy work.
I once trained a telco sales team. Their sales manager submitted his proposal for feedback (we do this for all course attendees). He and his team had worked for months to win this account, and he’d already sent the proposal to his prospect. But it was full of typos; he hadn’t run spellcheck over it before sending it. And worse, he’d left the previous client’s name in it — twice!
Oversights like that drop your ethos and credibility to your ankles. Proofread with fresh eyes. And with Credosity (which we’re about to release as a beta!).
I could add more to the list, but your scrolling finger is tiring. What else do you think is critical for building ethos? Go on, boost your cred by sharing your thoughts in the comments.
Paul & the Magneto team
P.S. Here’s how to build trust in your intimate relationships, from psychologist and author John Gottman.