Close

Making Your Character Count

Posted on by Jay Heinrichs

I like to ask audiences for a show of hands: How many wish arguments were purely logical? Almost everyone's hand, including mine, goes up. But Aristotle--the guy who invented logic as we know it--says that logic isn't the biggest persuader. Nope. The biggest persuader is character. (Aristotle called it Ethos, but he was speaking in Greek.)

Watch this amazing TED talk by the great ecologist Allan Savory and pay close attention to the character he projects.

You can persuade people much more easily if they like and trust you. The three tools to get yourself liked and trusted: Craft, Caring, and Cause. (Aristotle: phonesis, eunoia, and arete, all Greek to me.)

Craft means showing you know what you're talking about and knowing how to apply that knowledge to specific problems. Savory does this in spades, showing deep knowledge and applying it innovatively.

Caring has to do with convincing your audience that you're willing to sacrifice yourself for their interest--that you're not after money or power. In short, that you care. Savory's soft-spoken approach and modest dress convey a someone who's there just to deliver an urgent message, not to get rich or famous.

Cause: This is the biggest tool of all. When you pitch a product or service, or argue an issue, ask yourself: What's your cause? What does your argument do for humanity? 

It's the cause that wins the standing ovation. How do you think Savory did? Let me know what your own cause is. How does it relate to your work? Do you serve a larger cause in what you do to earn a living?

I'll tell you mine: It's to teach people how to argue without anger and persuade without fear. Our democracy depends on it. I quit my job to promote it. That doesn't make me a saint. But I hope it makes me more persuasive.