Communications Wisdom: Dan Ariely

In conversation with: Dan Ariely – Communications Wisdom

We were thrilled when Dan Ariely agreed to our interview.

For us, as corporate comms trainers and creators of ‘business-writing’ software, his books are some of our ‘bibles’.

Those, his TED talks, and even his game are fascinating, because, well, human behaviour is fascinating. Become a better psychologist, and you become a better communicator, leader, follower, parent and person.

His theme is irrationality: You’re nowhere near as rational as you like to think.

So how does a guru of behavioural economics view communication? Does having a deep understanding of irrationality change how you should connect, engage and persuade people? The answer is YES.

To hear how, watch the video above (mainly audio). It’s only 15 minutes long. Or you could read the transcript below. But it’s much nicer to hear Dan’s intonations as he speaks.

A rational person would say, ‘I can’t afford 15 minutes.’

But if you stop and listen, you’ll hear the irrational (real) you saying, ‘To hell with it; I’m not missing this.’ Continue reading

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Communications Wisdom: Jim Bolton, Ridge Associates, Inc.

Communications Wisdom Jim Bolton

In conversation with: Jim Bolton, President & Owner, Ridge Associates, Inc.

The book, ‘People Skills‘, is a comms classic. It was one of the texts I had to study for my communications degree, and has sold over a million copies.

So it’s no surprise that the author’s son—Jim Bolton—ended up running his own comms training company!

You’ll love Jim’s interview below. It’s the second in our Communications Wisdom series. (Here’s the first one, by Karen Boalch from Macquarie Group.)

Reading Jim’s interview, it’s clear he’s not only a brilliant communicator, but a rather special human.



Jim Bolton runs Ridge Training (, a US-based firm that improves business and personal relationships through skilful communication.

Jim has presented at national conferences in the US and been quoted and published in numerous business publications including Executive Excellence, Harvard Management Update and

Jim, what principles do you swear by when presenting to a live group?

As a young trainer I asked a mentor of mine a version of this question. She said, ‘First, you gotta love ’em.’ Bringing a sense of open-heartedness and gratitude to your work can change the entire tone. It shows.

Other principles: Keep it interactive. Get people talking, to me and to each other. Ask questions that enable the audience to personalize the content to their lives and work. Connect the content to what’s important to them.

Who, or what, taught you the most about communication? (We’re guessing your famous parents will feature here!) Tell us more.

I grew up in a family where communication was the family business; my dad wrote his best-selling book People Skills when I was a teenager. He (half-jokingly) says he wrote it to figure out how to deal with me. I’ve also had a number of great mentors along the way who taught me how to connect with others in a meaningful, authentic way. These days, it’s my teenage daughters who keep me honest.

Nature or nurture? Can people learn to be great communicators, or must you be born that way?

Without any scientific basis, I’d say 90% nurture. Communication is about tuning into others. This comes easier for some people. The same is true with athletes or musicians; some start with better talents and abilities. But that doesn’t predetermine greatness. The greats work at being great. Through learning and continued practice, anyone can become a highly skilled communicator.

What makes someone an extraordinary communicator? What characteristics, personality traits, experiences or otherwise ‘add up’ to make them so?

Empathy for sure. An awareness of interpersonal and group dynamics. Being able to speak clearly, concisely, and non-defensively. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

What’s your secret sauce? When you sit down to write an important message to your team or clients, what process or method do you use?

The main thing is to understand others’ frames of reference. That’s why listening is so important as an ongoing practice. Whether it’s one-on-one or to a group of hundreds, my goal is to (a) connect what’s important to me with what’s important to them, both in the message itself and in the way it’s delivered; and (b) keep the dynamics and talk time balanced.

Does that process change when you’re under pressure with a short deadline? How?

It accordions. With more time to prepare I can be more strategic. But even in impromptu situations you can state your understanding of others’ current needs or circumstances, state your own, keep things mutual, and create a common platform for problem solving or action.

Some people say emotions are irrelevant at work: ‘Focus on the facts!’ What’s your take on that?

First, humans are emotional beings; it’s impossible to leave your feelings at the door.

Second, this issue only comes up around negative emotions – you don’t hear organizations say ‘leave your enthusiasm and passion at home!’

Third, people can focus on the facts and be productive even if they don’t like what’s happening. Many do.

Fourth, emotions are energy. Great leaders know that if they can effectively address emotions like disappointment, anger, disillusionment, etc., they can transform that energy, helping employees be more resourceful and engaged. When leaders don’t do this, it’s often because their emotions are in the way.

How do you approach influencing someone more senior than you?

I focus on our underlying needs. People often bring solutions to a conversation and negotiate those. But if you’re clear on the underlying needs—the senior person’s and your own—there may be solutions that neither of you thought of individually but which could be mutually agreeable. Keep listening and be curious about novel ways to address those needs.

What are your favourite strategies for motivating people to action?

Have a compelling ‘why.’ If people understand what they’re being asked to do and why it’s important—to you, their team, the organization and for them—they’ll care more. The more they care, the more they’re willing to do. Keep reminding people of the ‘why’ and take every opportunity to point out how their efforts are making a difference in realizing that objective.

What’s the toughest message you’ve ever had to write or deliver? How did you handle it? Would you do things differently now?

Six years ago my (then) wife and I told our young daughters we were getting divorced. I spent days emotionally preparing for the conversation and getting the words right. Even so that was the worst 10 minutes of my life.

Fortunately, things got better. We all worked hard at making our new relationships with each other work. Within months, my relationships with my kids and ex-wife became better than they were before.

Not every communication comes with a happy ending. We can’t manage other people’s reactions even though that’s what most of us really hope for. That part is up to them. All we can do is communicate our thoughts and feelings with caring candor and be as accepting as we can about how others’ receive what we’ve communicated. If we can do that without the residue of regret, we’ve done well.

What’s your favourite quote or saying about communication (serious or funny)?

‘The two words “information” and “communication” are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.’ — Sydney J. Harris

‘A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while (s)he gets to know something.’ — Wilson Mizner

What advice would you give people who aren’t confident communicators or want to improve?

There are many programs, books, and tools that can help you with the mechanics of communication.

But it’s your spirit that counts. As mentioned above, try to understand others’ frames of reference. Care. Most people communicate from their own frame of reference without consideration for others. You’ll be surprised how this one change can impact your relationships and results with people.

Who do you personally know that you admire as an extraordinary communicator? What makes them so good?

The best I can think of is my business coach, Bob Waterloo. He’s a great person to be around so I always feel energized after being with him. As a communicator, there are three things I value in him:

  • I know he cares about me and my success; he has my best interests at heart and helps me be accountable to those interests, too.
  • He asks questions that get me thinking about my circumstances and my assumptions in fresh ways.
  • He’s patient when it takes time for me to wrestle with what he’s saying, especially when I don’t like it.

Like to share any other gems? Comment away!

Loved this! I hope there’s a pony in here somewhere!

We hope you enjoyed our Communications Wisdom interview with Jim Bolton.
What resonated with you?

Please leave a comment or question below.


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Communications Wisdom: Karen Boalch, Macquarie Group

Communications Wisdom: Karen Boalch, Macquarie Group

Communications Wisdom

In conversation with:
Karen Boalch, Associate Director, Macquarie Group

With a 30-year writing career spanning journalism, politics and business, Karen was a prime candidate for our Communications Wisdom series.

An Associate Director at Macquarie Group, she crafts communications for senior leadership. She was previously Press Secretary to the NSW Opposition Leader and NSW Treasurer.

And to balance all that seriousness, she writes a satirical sports blog at



1. What’s the toughest message you’ve ever had to write or deliver? How did you handle it? Would you do things differently now?

Working in politics, I sometimes had to write speeches about policy directions I didn’t agree with. I had to write one that was anti-euthanasia when I was pro. I actually learned a lot and it challenged some of my views. It made me more open to the nuances of the issue.

Communicating on behalf of others, it’s inevitable you won’t always agree with the message. It’s a matter for your own judgement whether you feel compromised by that.

2. What’s your favourite quote or saying about communication?

Former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave a Monty Pythonesque response at a news briefing about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction in 2002. It’s a great example of how not to communicate. Still cracks me up:

As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know.

We also know there are known unknowns, that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

– Donald Rumsfeld (2002)

3. How do you approach influencing someone more senior than you?

I’ll often canvas ideas and opinions from others first, which can uncover angles I haven’t considered.

I try to present the problem or issue succinctly, the pros and cons of the various approaches that can be taken, and then open discussion.

I’ll recommend a preferred option but I’ll be prepared to adapt it as the discussion progresses. It’s not a good idea to be wedded to one path – it can blind you to other, perhaps better, options.

4. What are your favourite strategies for motivating people to action?

Enthusiasm is a great motivator. If you can show people you are genuinely excited about an initiative, I find there’s a better chance they’ll get behind it.

Working in a team, where everyone has a clearly defined role and the opportunity to contribute, also inspires people to action.

5. What’s your secret sauce? When you sit down to write an important message to your team or clients, what process or method do you use?

The first thing I want to know is: who’s the audience? How many are there? What’s their background? Why are they there? That determines much of the tone and content.

6. Does that process change when you’re under pressure with a short deadline? How?

I often write better then because it makes you cut to the chase!

7. What principles do you swear by when presenting to a live group?

I prefer to learn the script rather than read from it. That’s not always possible but it does make for a more natural delivery and a better connection with the audience. I like to be personable and share examples from my own experience.

Gauge the audience and be prepared to adapt your content if they’re not engaged.

And use humour – but don’t tell jokes!

8. What makes someone an extraordinary communicator? What characteristics, personality traits, experiences or otherwise ‘add up’ to make them so?

I’m a sucker for someone who uses words well but nothing beats a person speaking authentically about something that matters to them.

9. Some people say emotions are irrelevant at work: ‘Focus on the facts!’ What’s your take on that?

I think that’s crap. Yes, facts are important. They cement an argument. But we’re subjective beings. We react. We make decisions every day based not just on fact but on feeling. Advertising, opinion polls, financial markets – all are driven by sentiment. So you’re throwing out a very powerful communication tool if you excise emotion from your work.

10. Who, or what, taught you the most about communication?

My mother taught me the importance of honesty. Journalism taught me to write economically. Politics taught me how to persuade. Business gave me an eye for detail. All are necessary to good communication.

11. Nature or nurture? Can people learn to be great communicators, or must you be born that way?

I would go with nurture. Good communication probably comes more naturally to some people but it’s definitely a skill you can learn.

12. What advice would you give people who aren’t confident communicators or want to improve?

Communication is part message, part delivery. Study how others craft their message. Watch TED talks. You will see speakers explain very complex subjects simply. They will often use personal examples. They engage their audience.

Practise your delivery. In front of a mirror, your family, your team.

For something a bit different, take an acting class. It gets you out of your comfort zone. And a large part of communication is performance.

13. Who do you personally know that you admire as an extraordinary communicator? What makes them so good?

A CEO I have worked with. Their great strength is in building a narrative, weaving seemingly unconnected threads together into an overall theme. It’s quite a talent.



More about Karen:

Karen Boalch, Associate Director, Macquarie Group

Her satirical sports blog:

Know an extraordinary communicator? This series taps and shares the hard-won insights of exceptional communicators. Who do you admire? Please connect us:


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Made To Stick (6/6): Using stories to engage

Once Upon A Time: Use stories to engage your audience

Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth. 
― Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Did you ever stop to think that stories have helped humans survive?

Long before books, there were stories. We told them around campfires and cave mouths for millennia. It’s how collected wisdom passed to future generations.

Without stories, our forebears would have kept making the same mistakes. And DIED.

So stories are in our DNA. People love them.

But are they appropriate at work?

Neuroscience is showing they’re not only appropriate, but essential.

Stories drive action through simulation (how to act) and inspiration (giving the energy to act). Using stories to engage is a powerful way to help people understand your message, remember it, and act on it.

‘Stories’ is the final S in the Heath Brothers’ Made to Stick SUCCES model. (The rest are here.)


The ultimate engager

Bullets and benefits aren’t bad, but it’s not long before they give your audience MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over).

Start telling a story, however, and people’s attention spikes. As a trainer and speaker, I see my audiences respond better to facts delivered in stories than in any other format.

You’ll be surprised how easy it is to find good stories you can use.

Need to get some budget approved? You could talk about when you bought a car; the budget you had determined the quality of what you got at the end.

Want your boss to approve new software? Tell the story of how your new cultivator dug out your garden beds: it reduced two days of pick-and-shovel to just two hours’ work. In the same way, your new software will boost your productivity.

Stories are an excellent way to bring an issue or decision to life.

They encourage mental simulation or re-enactment—think how a flight simulator is more effective than a text book for pilots.

Using stories to engage help audiences experience the situation - like a flight simulator

Image source:

Here are three time-proven ways to build a story and make your message stick:

1. The Challenge plot

The underdog story -- use challenging stories to engage

Image source:

The classic underdog story. Rags to riches.

You/your team/your organisation is up against it. Everything is going wrong. But here’s how you’ll snatch victory from the jaws of defeat…

With a little more budget, a little more time, a few more resources, you’ll turn it around.

The key element is that the obstacles are daunting.

Find examples of big challenges that have been turned around. Maybe your organisation’s history contains an underdog story. Perhaps your audience has faced similar issues. Maybe a famous historical figure succeeded when it looked like failure was imminent.

Telling the story of adversity reversed will spark new courage in your readers or listeners.


2. The Connection plot

Want to inspire people to give better customer service? Be kinder to their neighbours? More tolerant of diversity?

The Connection plot can bridge the gap.

A possibly apocryphal story like this is told to Nordstrom department store staff to encourage top customer service: A customer walked in with a tyre, and asked for a refund. Although Nordstrom had never sold tyres, the clerk gave him a refund.  That story is much ‘stickier’ than a plaque saying, ‘The customer is always right.’

What stories can you dig up from your managers, staff or customers?


3. The Creativity plot

Need a new solution to an old problem? To inspire innovation? Try the Creativity plot.

These stories are about long-standing puzzles that were solved.

Like Copernicus, who created the model proving Earth revolved around the Sun, not vice versa.

Or the Large Hadron Collider, revealing the mystery of the Higgs boson and the origins of the universe.

Or Dan Brown’s character, Robert Langdon, who solves the Da Vinci Code. (See how popular the Creativity plot is?!)

The Da Vinci Code used creative stories to engage

Image source: Columbia Pictures/Imagine Entertainment/Skylark Productions

How could your project, job application, new procedures, budget request or report solve a long-standing problem in your organisation or industry?

Tell a Creativity-plot story to capture your readers’ imagination, and make your message stick.



So what’s your story? Could you use stories to engage your audience so they want to know more?

Just keep it short, simple and sensory to make it ‘sticky’. In fact, follow the SUCCESs principles, and you can’t go wrong!

I’d love to hear your thoughts: got a good example of using stories effectively at work? Let me know in the comments below.


Paul & the Magneto/Credosity team

P.S. One of the most loved storytellers ever was Ernest Hemingway. One secret to his success? Super-easy-to-read text. The Old Man and the Sea had a reading grade level of only 4. Most business writing clocks in at grade 10 or above: hard to read. Credosity, our virtual writing coach, resurrects your readability! Try it free, for 30 days. Works in Outlook and Word.

Made to Stick (5/6): Use emotion to engage

Use emotion to engage

$100m decision: heart or head?

Here’s a statistic that surprises almost everyone who hears it.

Imagine you were the CEO of a large organisation, deciding on a $100 million project.

How much of your decision would be based on tangible facts? And how much on instinct and emotions?

You might think such critical decisions would be based on evidence. Surely emotions and feelings would be irrelevant when the stakes are so high?

Wrong. Very wrong.

Seth Rogen

Image source:

According to bid-consulting firm Rogen (no, not the actor), 70% of the decisions of multi-million dollar bid decision makers are based on emotions and instinct.

And only 30% on facts.

Huh? That’s what I hear from most audiences when I share this. But there’s one particular audience I don’t hear it from: CEOs.

CEOs agree: Instinct trumps facts

I’ve shared that finding with several CEO Institute syndicates, and they just nod. ‘Yep. We know.’

When we analyse huge, complex purchases, our rational, left brain ‘fills’ fast. There’s only so much we can keep in mind. So we end up relying heavily on intuition: ‘That company looks good on paper, but I have a bad feeling about them.’

Don’t ignore your hunches. Research shows we’re aware of things subconsciously well before we’re consciously aware.  It turns out that the right side of your brain processes information much faster than your left.

Besides that, the fact-based approach can simply fail. If someone has taken a view on an issue, proving they’re wrong is unlikely to budge them.  As Druckman and Bolsen found, ‘facts have limited impact on initial opinions’.

The way around this is to use emotion to engage. It’s powerful. That’s the E in the Heath Brothers’ SUCCESs model, from their brilliant book, Made to Stick.

Have you come in late? We’ve covered these from the SUCCESs model so far:

Appealing to feeling: Use emotion to engage

If you want your ideas, messages and presentations to stick, you have to make your audience care. They need to feel something.

For example, in Jamie Oliver’s TED presentation. He could have simply said kids eat X grams of sugar per day. And his audience would have tut-tutted, but forgotten it.

Instead, he emptied a wheelbarrow of sugar on stage. The audience felt horror, shock, disgust, sadness, anger. And they remembered.

How about you? Can you trigger an emotion in your reader or listener to make your point memorable? How can you use emotion to engage?

Of course, you’ll need to decide which emotion to evoke. Fear in teenagers could backfire. Greed could make your boss choose poorly. (A red Lamborghini? For the love of God, why not yellow??)

Here are three keys to generating emotion when you’re communicating at work:


It’s not that people are selfish. Well, okay, maybe a bit. But we’re all definitely caught up in our own world. A world of needs like love, money, security, friendships, confidence, satisfaction.

WIIFM - What's In It For Me? An essential ingredient for using emotion to engage

Image source:

WIIFM isn’t the name of a US radio station. It stands for ‘What’s In It For Me?’ It’s Marketing 101, but it’s amazing how often people forget to apply it.

Before you send your message, stop and think about your audience. Stand in their shoes. If you were them, what would be in it for you? How can you engage their self-interest? Will approving your project make their life easier? Will it reduce complaints? Will it get them home earlier?

Perhaps it’s about the people they want to be. Or the people they wish they weren’t. A liberal ladle of WIIFM will dial up the emotion in your messages.

2. The power of association

One of the best ways to get people to care, and ideas to stick, is to associate what they care about with what they don’t.

I saw a great example of this years ago: a TV ad from the UK. It showed a well-dressed small boy climbing carefully down some stairs. Like toddlers do.

He enters an underground public toilet. It’s grotty, filthy, foul.

UK ad - Child drinking from toilet. An example of how you can use emotions to engage your audience.

Source: YouTube

He goes into a cubicle. Kneels down. And starts drinking water out of a toilet bowl.

The voiceover says, ‘Did you know that, each year, 5 million children in the third world die from drinking water polluted with faeces’ … You get the message.

Suddenly, something we may not care about (the quality of water in developing countries) becomes very real and personal.

Can you do the same with your message? Think about your audience, and their wants and needs. How can you engage those to make your message stick?

Perhaps they care about golf. Can you find a golfing analogy or connection with a project that needs support, or an initiative that needs funding?

The more you can find out about your audience, the more emotional levers you’ll have to connect with and engage them.

3. Identity: Remind them of who they are

We all like to feel part of something. We have an identity. I’m an Australian, a dad, a speaker, a Game of Thrones fan.

Similar to the power of association, can you connect with an identity of your audience and use that?

Republic of Texas - Engaging emotions to make ideas stick by connecting and identifying with others

For example, the state of Texas in the US had a big litter problem. Appeals to common sense failed. So they asked famous Texans to send a message. George Foreman, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan. It worked beautifully.

Maybe you can use your audience’s peers at work, in their sporting club or in their home life to appeal to their emotions.

Logic, facts and reason are great ways to persuade people. But never forget emotions—they’re behind every sticky message. Using emotion to engage is one of your big guns.

Next up: Lucky last—keep an eye out for our last ezine in this ‘Made to Stick’ series. It’s the last S of SUCCESs … coming soon!


Paul & the Magneto/Credosity Team


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Making Ideas Stick (4/6): Without cred, you’re dead

Boost cred to make ideas stick

So far, in the Heath brothers’ SUCCESs model of what it takes to make ideas and messages stick, we’ve looked at:

That’s all well and good. But why should your audience believe you?

The second C of SUCCESs stands for Credibility.

Boost cred to make ideas stick

Truth. Next Exit.

[Image source:]

People tend to believe other people with authority. That could be you, or it could be someone else – an external authority.

For example, with my credentials as a copywriter and trainer, I could tell you it’s important to clean your teeth every day.

Don’t believe me? Not surprising (nor do my kids). My authority is in a different arena.

But if I tell you 9 out of 10 dentists say cleaning your teeth is important, that has impact.

Improve credibility by referring to an authority

[Not a lollipop. Image source:]

So, too, with your message. Do you have the authority to be credible, or will you need an external authority?

Let’s say you’re introducing a new compliance process for workplace safety. Is it enough that you say the process has to be applied? How much more powerful if you say ‘According to Safe Work Australia, 17 workers died in similar accidents in 2015’.

Credibility is a key ingredient in getting your message believed, remembered and actioned. You have to boost cred to make ideas stick.

Here are three ways to boost the credibility of your messages:

1. Authorities vs. anti-authorities

An authority to give your message believability could be:

  • You: if you have the credibility
  • An external source: a quote, expert source or testimonial
  • An anti-authority: someone who hasn’t implemented the idea, and suffered as a result.

The first two are simple enough. Perhaps the third option is more surprising.

Improve credibility by referring to an anti-authority

[Image source: YouTube Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Terrie’s ad]

Examples of using an anti-authority would be:

  • a smoker dying from cancer saying smoking is dangerous
  • someone in a wheelchair promoting a new workplace safety initiative
  • an organisation that went bankrupt because it ignored ethical issues.

You’ll find plenty of examples of anti-authorities. They can have great impact as examples of what can happen if people don’t apply the right guidelines or processes.

For example, Kodak has almost disappeared as a brand because they didn’t invest in future technology. They were complacent.

And the Sydney Opera House would be just a building site if further funds to develop the plans weren’t found.

History is littered with examples you can use of what happens when action isn’t taken. A negative image and story – an anti-authority – can often be a powerful motivator.

2. Statistics count

Cancer kills 2 out of 3 Australians. 9 out of 10 bosses make decisions based on facts. 7 out of 10 doctors recommend exercise for depression.

Whether those facts are correct or not (Google them to see!), statistics do a great job of providing proof and credibility.

What facts and figures do you have? What could you dig up? Can you use them to persuade?

As they say, you can’t argue with facts! (While that’s true, you often need more than just facts, as you’ll see in the section on Pathos/Heart in my post here.)

3. Frank Sinatra

To improve credibility, prove your product or service has succeeded elsewhere.

[Image source:]

In Ol’ Blue Eyes’ famous hit, New York, New York, Frank sings ‘If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.’

It’s a good rule of credibility: if your suggestion, product or service has succeeded elsewhere, saying so adds weight to your proposal.

Think of the classic line, ‘As used by NASA’. Well, with all their money and resources, surely they’d pick only the best? Your association with another client or user of a product/service can seriously boost your cred.

Find out if the product or service has been successfully used elsewhere, if any contractors have implemented a similar solution, or simply Google to find similar solutions.


Once you’ve surprised and engaged your audience, back it up. Make sure they have good reason to believe you. Statistics, testimonials and case studies are ideal ways to do this.

Do your homework and find the facts to support your case.

NEXT: You’ll be happy, excited, inspired and overjoyed to hear our next ezine in the SUCCESs series, the ‘E’, covers the powerful role Emotions play in making messages stick. Don’t be sad; it’ll be on our blog page soon!


Paul & the Magneto/Credosity Team


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The Write Way to Get Your Way (Thanks, Aristotle)

Arm wrestling - Aristotle had a better way

The Rule of Thump

Got younger siblings? When you were a kid, I’ll bet you used the Rule of Thump: If you wanted something your younger brother had, you just took it.

Might was right (you thought).

But unless you’re running a North Korean dictatorship, that won’t work so well now – least of all in business.

Management expert, Ken Blanchard, said:

‘The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.’

And here’s the good news: Influence is largely a science. If you study it, and apply the principles, you’ll improve your results – perhaps dramatically.

See-saw influence

Persuasion is like a see-saw: ‘yes’ is on one side, and ‘no’ is on the other.

If you need to persuade someone, their see-saw is leaning on ‘no’. It’s weighed down by beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, culture, inertia and more.

(if it was already on ‘yes’, you’re not persuading; you’re informing. You don’t have to persuade a five-year-old to eat a jelly bean. Tell them it’s there, and then it won’t be.)

So to get a ‘yes’, you need to lighten the ‘no’ side, and add weight to the ‘yes’ side. You can do that with conscious and subconscious persuaders.

Conscious persuaders

Aristotle's Pathos, Logos, Ethos to persuade and influence

Some conscious persuaders include those Aristotle discussed 2500 years ago:
1. Pathos (Heart)
2. Logos (Head)
3. Ethos (Cred)


Subconscious persuaders

And some subconscious persuaders include human biases, such as Dr Robert Cialdini’s influence principles:

1. Reciprocity
2. Liking
3. Social Proof
4. Commitment & Consistency
5. Scarcity
6. Authority

We’ll touch on the first list here. For a summary of Cialdini’s subconscious persuaders applied to business writing, email with ‘Magneto Incognito Influence’ as your subject header and we’ll send it to you.

Aristotle’s tricycle

Think of Pathos, Logos and Ethos as three wheels on a tricycle. You need all three to move your reader, to influence them.

Pathos: HEART

Use Aristotle's Pathos to persuade

As humans, our crowning glory is rational thought. We’ve built the pyramids, visited Pluto, and invented the ‘cronut’ (an OMG croissant/donut). So if someone isn’t convinced by what we’re saying, well, they simply need more facts, right?

Not always. Researchers Druckman and Bolsen (‘Framing Technologies’, Journal of Communication 61, 2011) found this:

‘… facts have limited impact on initial opinions …’

Why? Because we decide emotionally, and justify rationally.

Neuroscience professor, Antonio Damasio, said, ‘We’re not thinking machines that feel. We’re feeling machines that think.’

Ignore how your reader feels about your message, and they’ll shut down. But show empathy, and they’re likely to open up.

Got empathy?

Daniel Goleman, in his bestseller Working with Emotional Intelligence, proved that EQ, emotional intelligence, is critical. It turns out that EQ is twice as important to high-performing leadership than IQ (intelligence).

It’s no wonder, when 90 percent of our positive or negative impressions of people are based on ‘warmth’ and ‘strength.’ When we meet someone, we’re preoccupied with two questions:

1. What are their intentions towards me?
2. Do they have the power to carry them out?

This research by Amy Cuddy (Harvard Business Review: ‘Connect, Then Lead’) suggests that to avoid alienating your team, connect first, then show strength/expertise.

It’s not about the facts that you’re their leader. It’s about how they feel that you’re their leader.

Other research (Zenger & Folkman – from the same HBR article above) showed that strongly disliked leaders only have a 1 in 2000 chance of being considered effective.

To apply Pathos/Heart:

  • Show you appreciate how your reader is feeling about your message.
  • Use stories to make your messages memorable.
  • Be ‘sold’ on your idea yourself (emotions are contagious).
  • Bring messages to life with visuals like photos, cartoons and video.

Logos: HEAD

Using Aristotle's Logos to persuade

Pathos above, gets you in the door. But once inside, if you don’t convince them, you’ll be shown the door.

They have to want what you have.

At the end of ‘The Wolf of Wall St’ movie, DiCaprio’s character tells a room full of wannabes to ‘Sell me this pen.’

Their responses are classic: ‘This is a beautiful pen. It works very well …’

It’s the most common persuasion error: Hard sell. No one likes being sold to. One sniff of that, and the walls go up.

We do, however, like to buy.

So stop trying to sell. Start trying to help. Help them get what they need. Don’t be a salesperson. Become an assistant buyer.

How? First smell out their needs by asking questions. First smell. Then sell.

Don’t mind the gap; find the gap. Nature abhors a vacuum. Open a gap in your reader’s mind, and they’ll want to fill it.

To apply Logos/Head:

  • Tease, don’t tell. Ask questions first, before giving answers. Make them realise they don’t know what you’ve got for them.
  • Lead with their need. Get their attention with a need or problem you know they have.
  • Frame your message in terms of what’s in it for them, not you. Talk benefits first, cost later.

Ethos: CRED

Using Aristotle's Ethos to persuade

Okay. So you’ve connected with them with Pathos, and convinced them with Logos.

Are we there yet?

Not quite.

Heart plus Head with no Cred equals a dodgy used-car salesperson.

Trust is critical. Here’s how to build it.

To apply Ethos/Cred:

  • Make it engaging and easy to read. Credosity is brilliant for this (
  • Check and double-check your work – your facts and your writing. Typos, bad grammar and inconsistent layout make people think you’re sloppy.
  • Use an authoritative tone. Not, ‘Like to buy from me?’ but, ‘Usually the best next step is to meet to scope out your needs. Are you free tomorrow?’
  • Be dependable. Do what you say you’ll do. Follow through.
  • Quantify to boost your cred. Specifics sell. Don’t say ‘System X is significantly faster than System Y.’ Say, ‘System X is 45 percent faster than System Y.’
  • Let readers/listeners know you’re an expert. Been in the game for 20 years? Done research on this topic? Got an MBA? Let them know (maybe subtly, so you don’t seem a braggart).
  • Admit a weakness – a minor one, not a major one! For example, ‘We’re not the biggest, but that gives you more personal attention.’

Use your powers for good, not evil

Finally, the best persuasion tip of all is to make sure it’s a win-win. You win. They win. If it’s win-lose, you’ll lose in the long run. Once your name is mud and trust is gone, no amount of persuasive psychology can save you.

Make a career-unlimiting move

Congratulations on reading to here – you’re clearly committed to this.

We’ve covered a lot of ground. But it’s just a taster. Are you really hungry to master influence? Great! Because I’m dishing out the whole enchilada at two live events shortly:

  1. ‘Writing to Influence’ webinars: Two short sessions with me online, 16 and 23 October 2015 (not either/or; you’d do both)
  2. Live on the Gold Coast for Business Chicks: An in-the-flesh session at the QT Hotel on the gorgeous Gold Coast on 10 November 2015. This is the culmination of a national tour I’ve done for Business Chicks. Attendees have loved them, and said nice things like:

‘I can’t believe how many light bulb moments I had. I’m going to spend the rest of the day reinventing our proposals and templates!’ *

Jump on the Business Chicks ‘Events’ page and grab your seat now!

P.S. Seen the post? Get the infographic!

Like a copy of the Heart-Head-Cred infographics above all sewn together on one handy reference page for your desk or team? Email with ‘heart head cred’ as your subject header. We’ll send it to you pronto!

*An attendee at the Perth event said this, not my mum.


Paul Jones (Director, Magneto Communications and co-founder, Credosity) is a charismatic presenter and corporate communications expert. He’s on a mission to save the world from bad writing, and help good people get more of what they want. More: and


A version of this article was originally published in Business Chicks ‘Latte’ magazine – 10th-anniversary edition (September 2015).

Do you use A-list persuasive strategies, or B-list?

When you were growing up, which of your siblings got their way more often?

Usually it’s the eldest, because they’re the biggest. (I should know; I’m the eldest of six kids.)

When I ask our course attendees for their persuasive strategies, they usually think of the ‘B’ list:

  • Beg (‘C’mon Meg, we really need this project approved. PLEASE?’)
  • Bribe (‘Hey, approve this and I’ll get you some new staff.’)
  • Bully (‘John, I need this approved ASAP’ — and you see the Big Boss is copied in on the email)
  • Blackmail (‘If you don’t approve this, I’ll have no choice but to take it to the Big Bwana.’)

But these are blunt instruments. The B-list isn’t for you — you’re an ‘A’-lister. It’s time you upgraded to some sharper tools!

For the first time ever, we’re running a ‘Writing to Influence’ class online. Check it out below (see the ‘lemon’ guy). This is an intensive version of our full-day, in-house-only ‘influence’ course. 

And if you want to ramp up your writing skills across the board — writing to persuade, inform, deliver difficult messages and more — we’re running another online writing masterclass in October (see the ‘5 times’ header below). 

What about you? Can you add more to the persuasion ‘B’ list? Brainwash? Browbeat?? Share it in the comments below!


Paul & the Magneto/Credosity Team

P.S. Tried Credosity yet? We’ve just finished a major revamp, based on feedback, and it’s rocking! This Microsoft Word add-in helps you write better, faster! Take a peek (yours free for a month).

Writing to Influence webinars -- persuasive strategies from behavioural economics, copywriting and more


A workshop attendee loving our persuasive strategies: 'Beyond the useful insight shared, the passion and enthusiasm from the workshop was highly infectious and left me on a geeky, wordsmithery high for the rest of the day!'

GET IT WRITE Masterclass online -- keys to clear communication for skim readers, overlaid with clever persuasive strategies!

More about our Get It Write Masterclass.

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Top Books: Persuasion, Psychology, Comms

Harry S. Truman had it right…

‘Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers!’

What price an idea? One good idea can set you up for life. And the lack of them sends careers and companies to their graves.

Here are some of my all-time favourite books. Many of them I’ve read several times over. And some I haven’t read at all — I’ve listened to them (usually several times over) as audiobooks. (I use Audible and their smartphone app.)

So take a deep breath, whip out your Kindle and feast your mind on these. Your career will thank you.

P.S. We’re always looking to grow our bookshelf and brain. Got a favourite? Tell us.

Persuasive, engaging communication

madetostick Resonate HBRGuide

Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die, Chip and Dan Heath

Resonate: Present visual stories that transform audiences, Nancy Duarte

HBR Guide to Better Business Writing (HBR Guide Series), Bryan A. Garner

General influence

Influence  Yes smallbig winfriends verbaljudo

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition, Robert Cialdini

Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive,  Noah J. Goldstein Ph.D., Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini Ph.D.

The small BIG: Small Changes that Spark Big Influence, Steve Martin, Noah Goldstein, Robert B. Cialdini

How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie

Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion, Updated Edition, George J. Thompson, Jerry B. Jenkins

Behavioural economics

nudge thinkingfastslow predictably

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely



Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in, Roger Fisher, William Ury


SPINselling secretsofclosingsale

SPIN Selling, Neil Rackham

Secrets of Closing the Sale, Zig Ziglar

Motivating people (& yourself)

switch drive gamechanger

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink

The Game Changer: How to Use the Science of Motivation With the Power of Game Design to Shift Behaviour, Shape Culture and Make Clever Happen, Jason Fox

Tough conversations


Crucial Conversations — Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler


EI 50psychclassics People Styles at Work

Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman

50 Psychology Classics, Tom Butler-Bowdon (good writers are good psychologists)

People Styles at Work…And Beyond, Robert Bolton & Dorothy Grover Bolton. One of the best books on understanding personality types we’ve read. It helps you adapt your communication to suit your reader’s preference.

Business smarts


The Personal MBA — Master the Art of Business, Josh Kaufman (this book is full of smart influence and comms ideas)