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).

One thought on “The Write Way to Get Your Way (Thanks, Aristotle)

  1. Pingback: Making Ideas Stick (4/6): Without cred, you're dead - Magneto Blog

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