By Davide Costella
I still remember vividly that cold day in the winter of 2000. I was standing in front of my college classmate, Phil, debating the right of students to chose the curriculum. The debate took place in a class about the art of communication and persuasion. Phil won the argument that day and, since then, I have been fascinated about what it takes to handle objections and win arguments using rhetorical skills. Losing that debate put me on the road to learning NLP and eventually becoming a communication coach.
I soon learned that rhetorical skills alone were not enough to consistently win arguments and persuade people. I came across the work of Aristotle and Paul MacLean which, when considered together, offered crucial pieces of the puzzle.
Aristotle. Back in the classical period of ancient Greece, Aristotle stated that in order to be persuasive you must use Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Ethos is argument by character, which involves appearing trustworthy. Pathos is argument by emotions, meaning that a successful persuader must learn how to read and appeal to the audience’s emotions. Logos is what most people usually think of when they think of debate: persuading through logic.
Paul MacLean. Much later, Paul MacLean, an American physician and neuroscientist who was born in 1913, formulated a model of the brain in which the brain was considered, in reality, three distinct brains. His basic theory provides an easy-to-understand approximation of the hierarchy of brain functions and how they can be used, along with language patterns, to persuade others and win arguments.
First, there is the reptilian complex, the oldest part of the brain which aims to protect us. This part of the brain triggers the fight and flight response. The reptilian complex answers the question: Can I trust this person or this thing?
Second, there is the limbic system where we find our emotions and memories. This is where storytelling plays a key role. The limbic system answers the question: What’s in for me?
Third, there is the newest part of the brain, the neocortex, also known as the executive part of our system. This part is responsible for all higher-order conscious activity such as language. The neocortex makes decisions based on cognitive bias and answers the question: What do I have to do?
We can combine and use this knowledge from Aristotle and Paul MacLean to formulate a 3-part, practical method of persuasion. In business, winning the debate does not always maximize the outcome, but persuasion is absolutely essential in maximizing effectiveness.
Imagine the following conversation between two colleagues:
Tom did not answer with “Sorry, Ana, you’re too late. We can’t incorporate any further comments.” Instead, he maximized the outcome by first praising Ana and making her feel appreciated. She feels respected and her reptilian complex does not perceive any danger.
Then Tom clearly stated what was in it for Ana: Her comments will go out to the organization. This triggers positive emotions through her limbic system. Now Ana is relaxed and she trusts Tom.
Tom then told her that the deadline has passed, but he is willing to make an exception on the condition that she limit herself to two comments and send them in fast. In this way, he puts the responsibility on Ana. She has an action to take and is motivated to do so.
This is one of the many examples where communicating using to this 3-part approach can help you maximize effectiveness through persuasion.
If you’d like to learn more about how to communicate consciously so you can be more powerful in your dealings with others, please contact davide costella.
Self-Help Book / Personal Development