Friday, December 21, 2012

Using ethos, pathos, and logos for persuasion

Ethos, pathos, and logos are known as Aristotle's modes of persuasion. Ethos is an appeal to trust and authority, pathos is an appeal to emotion and beliefs, and logos is an appeal to logic and reasoning. Each of these three modes of persuasion has a unique capability to change someone's mind, with varying degrees of influence.

Many people naturally appeal to ethos and logos, and forget to appeal to pathos when trying to persuade others. While ethos and logos can be compelling in academic environments, it is not enough to influence most people to change. 

As I have written previously, applying emotion before logic and reasoning can be a more effective route to persuasion. Effective leaders are able to use ethos to establish their authority, use pathos appeal to emotion, and lastly use logos to support their idea with logic and reasoning.

Watch Three Secrets to Influencing People: logos, ethos, and pathos by Jesse Lahey

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Using authority to persuade

Would you shock someone with 400-volts if an authority figure commanded you to?

Robert Cialdini described six fundamental principles of human influence in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. One of the six principles is authority, the idea that people honor the lead of credible knowledgeable experts. Titles, uniforms, diplomas, and other signals of authority can significantly impact your ability to influence people's behavior.

In Cialdini's book, he describes Stanley Milgrim's experiment on obedience to authority figures. Milgrim set out to answer the question, "When it is their job, how much suffering will ordinary people be willing to inflict on an entirely innocent other person?" In his experiment, a majority of people responded to instructions from an authority figure to deliver nearly fatal levels of shock to an innocent person, merely because the person giving the orders established himself as an scientist with a lab coat and a clipboard. The test subjects administering the shock found it difficult to disobey the the lab-coated researcher. Some even protested against giving the shocks, but continued regardless. The physical presence of an authority figure and sponsorship of the study by Yale (a trusted and authoritative academic institution) dramatically increased compliance with the instructions. When authority figures present themselves to us, our natural tendency is to comply with their directions and commands.

Do you use authority to persuade others?

Is your job title at work important as a way to persuade others to take up your cause? What about the diploma hanging on your wall, or the books on the shelf in your office? How about the clothes that you wear or even the car that you drive?

Establishing yourself an authority figure can have a significant impact on your ability to influence others. Some of the cues can be very subtle, while others can be outright direct. You will often see people positioning themselves in the pecking order of a group in order to establish their authority. In sales and marketing, presentations at trade shows, published whitepapers, trade journal article contributions, and blogs can all serve to establish the perception of you as a credible authority figure. Many people will go through the painstaking process of writing a book simply to establish their place as a thought leader in a particular domain of expertise.

Watch Science of Persuasion for a brief description of Cialdini's 6 principles of influence:

Appealing to a sense of authority can only get you so far. What else is needed?

(Image courtesy of Eric Pierce)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Persuade first. Convince last.

Seth Godin recently wrote about Persuade vs. convince. Seth says,
"Marketers don't convince. Engineers convince. Marketers persuade. Persuasion appeals to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Convincing requires a spreadsheet or some other rational device."
What is the difference between being convinced and persuaded? In the context that Seth is using the terms, they mean the following:
A person is convinced by evidence or arguments made to the intellect. 
A person is persuaded by appeals made to the will, moral sense, or emotions.
I previously described why the western intellectual tradition is not effective for leaders to drive change. The problem with this approach is that it relies on reason to convince someone of your new idea. It isn't enough to get someone to change their mind. You want them to change their behavior. In order to drive change, you need to persuade them first and then convince them later.

A more compelling way to drive change

A more compelling way to get someone to change is offered by Stephen Denning in his book, The Secret Language of Leadership, and in an article by the same name. He says that successful leaders will first get their attention, second stimulate desire, and only then do they reinforce with reasons.

Excite the lizard brain, persuade the animal brain, and convince the human brain

Going back to the Triune Brain Theory, behavior is driven by the lizard and animal brains. So if you want to drive change, you must appeal to these areas of the brain. Excite the lizard brain into action by talking about the pain that your idea will alleviate. Then persuade the animal brain with a positive emotional story that supports your idea. Last, convince the human brain with reason.

The most important step is to stimulate desire. It isn't enough to simply inform others about your idea and to let them reach their own conclusions through reason. You want to elicit a desire for change. The animal brain is where emotional connections and decisions are made. If you aren't stimulating desire, then you are not driving a change in behavior.

This approach turns confirmation bias around to act in your favor. Denning says that reasons should come after an emotional connection has been made with the new idea. Your listener is now actively searching for reasons to support a decision that they have in principle already taken.

You can't avoid the reasoning step. This is a must and it is very important. What is also very important is at which point you introduce the reasoning into the conversation.

What is the most effective way to stimulate desire?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Turning confirmation bias on it's head

I previously mentioned that a rational approach to persuasion can lead to an entrenched response in opposition of change. This is due to a psychological phenomenon called confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias causes us to pay attention to information that confirms our beliefs, and to ignore information that challenges our preconceived notions. People use new information to become more entrenched in their existing viewpoints.

We see this in politics. When watching a presidential debate, only the undecided voters will be swayed by the rhetoric of the candidates. Once a voter's mind is made up for who they plan to vote for, they will use the new information to reinforce their decision. Whatever their candidate says is considered valid and whatever the other candidate says is considered either incorrect or misleading.

We also see this confirmation bias in conspiracy theorists as well...

xkcd: Conspiracy Theories

What does confirmation bias mean for leadership?

When you start out by presenting a rational argument for change, your listener's lizard brain will generate a response based on the perceived threat of something new that challenges their preexisting beliefs. Their animal brain will generate a negative emotional response. The result will be an entrenched response and a rational argument about why your new approach is wrong, based on facts that support their beliefs.

On the other hand, if you establish an emotional response to your idea before providing reason, your listener will apply confirmation bias in favor of your idea. They will use this new information to become entrenched in their newly formed viewpoint, which works for you instead of against you.

Have you experienced confirmation bias when trying to convince someone to change their mind?

Monday, December 10, 2012

A rational approach doesn't work for leaders

I am an engineer. We engineers like to solve problems, and we are trained to go about this in a certain way. We are trained to identify the problem, analyze it, and provide an unbiased solution.

In The Secret Language of Leadership, Stephen Denning refers to this rational approach as the western intellectual tradition. He explains that folowing this approach can create problems for leaders who are trying to persuade others to change.

What is wrong with a rational approach?

Nothing is wrong with a purely rational approach if you are an engineer doing what engineers do best: solving problems.

On the other hand, this approach can be a real problem for you if you are trying to persuade someone to change their mind. Going back to the Triune Brain Theory, the rational approach is not inspiring because it only appeals to your human brain.

It is a great way to go about problem solving and scientific research, but there are a few key problems if you use this approach to lead change:
  • It is not memorable.
  • It is not emotional.
  • It does not drive a change in behavior.
You are asking someone to change their mind without first asking them to change what is in their heart. This approach can even lead to an entrenched response in opposition of change, due to a psychological phenomenon called confirmation bias.

What is the western intellectual tradition?

The western intellectual tradition is rooted in French philosopher RenĂ© Descartes' concepts of rationalism and dualism. Descartes argued that reason alone determined knowledge, and that this could be done independently of the senses. He thought the mind and the body were completely separate. To him, the mind was an immaterial “thinking thing,” the essence of which was cool conscious reasoning untainted by base physical influence.

In the book Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Antonio Damasio says that Descartes could not have been more wrong. Through his research, Damasio demonstrates that emotions are essential to rational thinking.

If a rational approach isn't effective, then how do you drive an emotional response?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Does emotion really drive decisions?

I'm a pretty skeptical person. When I hear something that is counter intuitive, I typically don't believe it until I have some evidence that proves the concept is real.

In my study of engineering, economics, and decision sciences, I have been trained to apply logical analysis to decisions, and to block out the influence of emotions. If you're like me, then the idea that decisions and behavior are driven by emotion instead of reason is a tough pill to swallow.

But then I have read about two examples that provide compelling evidence in support of this concept. Antonio Damasio, a professor of neuroscience at USC, uses these stories to illustrate his somatic marker hypothesis, a hypothesized link between the frontal lobes, emotion and practical decision-making.
"Reduction in emotion may constitute an equally important source of irrational behavior."
- Antonio Damasio, Descartes Error

Phineas Gage and the Tamping Rod

Phineas Gage is often referred to as one of the most famous patients in neuroscience. He was a railroad construction foreman who survived an incident in 1848 where an iron rod was driven completely through his head. The injury destroyed portions of his brain's frontal lobe, an important part of brain that processes emotion and decision making. Before the accident, Gage was a responsible, intelligent, and likeable person. After the accident, he still had the same cognitive abilities as before, but he was irresponsible, used profanity extensively, and demonstrated no respect for social customs. His friends commented that “Gage was no longer Gage.” He could not hold the responsible jobs that he had before the accident and wandered around for the next several years. His decision making capability was severely impacted.

Portrait of Phineas Gage with his famous tamping rod.
From the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus.

Elliot and the Brain Tumor Surgery

Damasio tells a story about a patient named Elliot who lost a section of his prefrontal cortex during surgery for a brain tumor. Elliot went from being a successful businessman and father to losing everything. His IQ and memory were unchanged, but he became incapable of making the most basic of decisions. Damasio found that Elliott lost the ability to experience emotion as a result of the surgery. Intuition would lead you to believe that he would make better, more rational decisions. However, it was just the opposite. Without emotion, Elliot was unable to gauge what was important and what mattered. He deliberated over simple decisions, unable to reach a conclusion. Elliot's story is described by Jonah Leher in his article, Feeling our Way to Decision.

I found an interview with Antonio Damasio on YouTube where he describes what he has seen with patients that have lost their ability to experience emotion. Not only do they lose the capability to make decisions quickly, but they also make very poor decisions.