This Manager’s Change Initiatives Lacked Ethos, Pathos, Logos: Case Study on Aristotle’s Persuasion Framework

Persuasive Manager

In my previous article, I reviewed Aristotle’s framework for persuasion and argumentation: to win over others to a particular point of view, it’s necessary to appeal through ethos (credibility,) pathos (emotion,) and logos (reason.) In this article, I give a case study of organizational initiative that lacked ethos, pathos, and logos.

Consider the case of a young mid-level manager I coached last year. Helen (name changed for anonymity) recently joined the finance department of a capital-goods company. Two months into her job, she was bothered by her lack of initial success in bringing about change at her workplace.

Helen was smart, driven, and had a great professional track record. During her interviews, she had impressed her supervisors by her hard work, drive, and creative ideas. They recruited her to implement rigorous audit processes.

Just a few weeks after joining, Helen drew from her previous experience and generated many new and creative ideas to overhaul the financial audit processes. Her supervisors had given her all the responsibility and authority to bring about the necessary changes. However, she quickly encountered a problem: her peers and team members would not buy into her ideas.

In meetings where Helen spoke of her vision for change, her peers and team members would politely pay lip service to her ideas, but when it came to actually implementing her suggestions, nothing seemed to happen. Helen received a 360-degree feedback exercise about how her peers and team members perceived her and her ideas.

How to be More Persuasive

Helen was startled by the feedback she received. In response, she decided to improve her approach to selling her ideas by working on all three dimensions of Aristotle’s persuasion framework.

  • Ethos: Helen lacked ethos among her peers and her team members. She possessed ethos in the eyes of her superiors who’d recruited her and granted her authority to bring about the necessary change, but not with her peers and team members. She realized that she needed to prove herself and her ideas’ credibility.
  • Pathos: Helen had failed to elicit pathos and never took the time and effort to involve her peers and team members in the decision-making and convince them of the need for change.
  • Logos: Helen assumed that the problems she had faced at her previous employer were the same problems her new employer faced. Without learning about the corporate culture and the existing audit processes by interviewing her peers and team members, Helen had made all her recommendations for change based on things she had seen work in other settings. Her suggestions found no resonance for her new colleagues—to them she seemed to be trying to fix problems that did not exist.

Idea for Impact: To persuade others to your point of view, you must understand what truly moves your audience and then appeal through all the elements of Aristotle’s ethos-pathos-logos framework.

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