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Understanding the Roots of Persuasive Communication for Greater Sales

By Felicia J. Slattery

Sales. The very thought of selling something can drive a person to high anxiety in a hurry. But for the small business owner, regardless of the business, there is still the need to find a way to let other people know about the business—and turn prospects into customers. For many, understanding the roots of persuasive communication can help take away some of the pain and anxiety of selling.

Let's face it: sales means persuasion. The definition of persuasion is to convince a person to act: in the case of sales, to purchase a product or service. Persuading someone can happen in an ethical and manipulative-free way. In fact, it can simply be about the small business owner providing the facts and presenting those facts in such a way that a prospect wants to buy now.

To learn about persuasive communication, we actually can go way back to its origins. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, provided a framework for establishing persuasive proofs, or forms of what he called rhetoric. Aristotle defined three persuasive proof appeals: ethos, pathos, and logos.

Ethos is an appeal based on the credibility of the speaker. The word comes from the Greek for "character." For example, if you want to know why you should hire me to help you learn better communication skills, I could make an ethos-based appeal where I tell you that I have been teaching communication skills for more than 10 years in the college classroom and I have two masters degrees: the first in teaching adults and the second in communication. Both my experience and my academic credentials lend high credibility to my argument that I am well qualified to teach you communication skills.

Pathos is an appeal to emotion and comes from the Greek word for "suffering" or "experience." (Think about the root of the word "pathetic" -- it draws an emotional response). An example of a pathos-based appeal could be to suggest that by hiring me, you will feel more confident in your communication skills. Being a good communicator can give you a sense of personal power that is important to your happiness and success at work and at home. The argument that you will feel something positive after working with me is a direct appeal to pathos.

Logos is an appeal to logic, and comes from the Greek for "word." This appeal looks at the internal consistency of the message and if what the speaker is promising makes sense, is clearly expressed, and provides evidence with valid reasons. Following our example, I can tell you that learning about how to persuade others will bring you more business because sales is in its essence true persuasion. This is particularly important if we look at the definition of persuasion as motivating our audience to DO something (spend their money on our products or services).

Research has shown time and again that one key reason people will buy from you is based on your credibility. And communicating your credibility is a skill that can be learned. I might even say that in a recent survey I conducted, 70% of respondents reported their biggest communication challenge is persuasion or sales skills; they know that developing persuasive communication skills is key to their business and they know I can offer them those skills.

The most solid persuasive messages will feature a combination of all three of these proofs, ethos, pathos and logos, used throughout a presentation to create a strong argument. By using all three forms, you would appeal to the broadest audience and answer many of their needs and concerns.

Further, by including these three appeals, you don't have the need to feel like you're "selling" something. You're simply explaining how what you have to offer meets three basic criteria of ethos, pathos, and logos. If you think of sales as providing what Aristotle called rhetorical details, you’ll be well on your way to getting over your anxiety of selling.

Copyright 2007. Felicia J. Slattery.

Felicia J. Slattery, M.A., M.Ad.Ed., is a Communication Consultant, Speaker and Coach with more than a decade of experience teaching people effective and powerful communication skills in order to achieve their happiest and most successful lives. Felicia offers a free e-course for small business owners called Increase Business by Communicating Your Credibility at her website: Sign up now!

Photo of Felicia SlatteryYou're welcome to reprint this article online or in print form, as long as it remains complete and unaltered and as long as you include the author information at the end. I'd appreciate if you would email me a link to your reprint. Thanks!

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