According to Aristotle, if you want someone to be persuaded by your argument, logic is less important than whether they like and trust you.
I’d love to say I learned this reading Aristotle but in fact it was from listening to an interview on the Today programme last week with Jay Heinrichs. He was promoting his new book How to Argue with a Cat: A Human’s Guide to the Art of Persuasion.
In the interview he explained that Aristotle said that three qualities are needed if you’re going to persuade someone:
- you have to be disinterested and show how you’ve got the best interests of your audience at heart (I’d liken this to focusing on benefits rather than features in your marketing copy)
- you have to know (or appear to know) what you’re talking about
- you have to represent some higher cause (I was reminded of Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, which posits that in business, it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters why you do it.)
I think these are really interesting points to bear in mind whenever you’re writing copy.
As it happens, I saw the whole theory in action later on in the day listening to PM.
It featured an interview with Ges Smith, the head teacher at Jo Richardson Community School in Dagenham. He was being interviewed because he’d banned his pupils from touching the snow. The introduction made me fear for Ges – the tone was one of ‘health and safety gone mad’. In actual fact, Ges acquitted himself extraordinarily well and from a very unpromising starting position, persuaded me of his argument.
- He was quietly and calmly spoken and lightly self-deprecating – in other words, he was likeable.
- He stressed his stance was simply because he took duty of care very seriously – in other words, he demonstrated he cared about a higher cause.
- He showed how his commitment to risk assessment was contributing to opening up opportunities: the school has the highest uptake of Duke of Edinburgh entrants in its borough, its students do work experience in US, Italy, Australia, Bangladesh and, in one amusing example, it allowed a student of his to toboggan down a volcano while on a school trip to Nicaragua last year – in other words, he showed he had the best interests of his audience (his pupils) at heart.
It was an impressive example of persuasion in action and I was completely persuaded.
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