How do we communicate so people are motivated?

berlin-rhetoric1Finishing up this short series on rhetoric, persuasion, and leadership, I want to help us rethink and reframe persuasion. After dealing with the question of logic or emotion, now we come to how I think we should look at how to influence and lead others, regardless of the organization you lead.

Utilizing Aristotle’s appeals, neuroscience’s research, Duarte’s common structure, and Kouzes and Posner’s leadership characteristics, a way to integrate all these for effective persuasion can be developed. Why? A big part of a business leader’s responsibilities is to motivate people to achieve certain goals. To do that, the leader has to engage the person’s emotions (Fryer).

Traditional rhetoric, giving statistics and facts and quotes from authorities has two problems, according to screenwriter, professor, and consultant Robert McKee. First, the people spoken to will have their own set of authorities, statistics, and experiences. While the communicator is trying to persuade them, those people are arguing back in their heads. Second, if the leader does succeed in persuading them, they have done so only on an intellectual basis. That’s not good enough, because people are not inspired to act by reason alone (Fryer, para. 5).

McKee continues, stating that a second “way to persuade people—and ultimately a much more powerful way—is by uniting an idea with an emotion. The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story” (Fryer, para. 6). This connects with Duarte’s back and forth resonance concept because leaders not only have to understand their companies’ past, but then they must construct a “what will be if we do this” future.

It might be expressed in the following manner. Each of Aristotle’s appeals have equal weight. One does not have prominence over the other and effective rhetoric not only uses all three appeals but also integrates all three appeals.

Pathos is reframed not simply as emotion, but as a driver of behavior and decision-making, which neuroscience is now substantiating. Emotion moves people to act, so it is a primary motivator. Interestingly, Aristotle appears to come to the same conclusion. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty explains that Aristotle viewed pathos as that which produces change in a body that would not otherwise experience such a change (Rice, 2007b). Pathos is, therefore, an agent of change, not simply a feeling.

If pathos is a motivating agent, vision is where pathos would take the person. Thus effective persuasion would help the person or audience grasp a picture of what could be compared with what is. The communicator paints a picture of what tomorrow would look like if their process or idea were enacted. He or she would differentiate that future from what is today’s reality or the vision expressed by another communicator. Pathos becomes the framework upon which the rhetorician builds his or her argument. It answers the “what?” and “where?” questions.

If pathos is the framework, logos fills in the details of structure. Rhetoric devoid of information and details is not true rhetoric. The “what?” and “where?” that pathos provides require the “how?” and “when?” that flows from logos. Vision without execution does not equal persuasion. It is empty.

Ethos cannot be forgotten. The credibility and character of the rhetorician are imperative to the effectiveness of the new reality being proposed. American politics is rife with leaders who were great orators but whose ethos was so lacking that few people listened to them. Therefore ethos could be restated as “do what you said you would do,” which is one of Kouzes and Posner’s five qualities of a great leader.

If rhetoric, and particularly Aristotle’s version of it, is the means of using a text to persuade a person or group of people to do something, to believe something different or to change how something is done, then a more holistic view of his appeals must be considered. Without it, rhetoric is limited in its effect, especially long-term. I think a fresh look at pathos, logos, and ethos is a great place to start!


Fryer, B. (2003, June 1). Storytelling That Moves People – Harvard Business Review. Retrieved May 1, 2013, from

Rice, J. E. (2007b, August 13). Pathos as the enactment of change | The New Pathos [Web log post]. Retrieved from