Character Trumps Emotion Trumps Logic


“You cannot reason people out of a position that they did not reason themselves into.” ? Ben Goldacre

If you need to be persuasive, you need to know this secret.

It’s how people who influence without authority improve their effectiveness.

The secret is character trumps emotion trumps logic.

Win the Heart the Mind Follows

If you win the heart, the mind follows.  On the other hand, if you win the mind, the heart doesn’t always follow.  For an example of character, think about the impact of the right people in the room asking the right questions.

You Don’t Need More Data, You Need More Story

When you know this secret, it all makes sense.  You didn’t need more data to make your point.  You needed a moving story.  When you walk into the room, it’s not what you say or how you say it … people will go with whatever Frodo says, so you better have him on your side.

In Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion, Jay Heinrichs writes about arguments by logos, ethos, and pathos. I’ve highlighted some relevant points from Thank You for Arguing.

Logos, Ethos, Pathos

According to Heinrichs, Aristotle had a Big Three:

  1. Logos – argument by logic
  2. Ethos – argument by character
  3. Pathos – argument by emotion

Argument by Logic (Logos)

Logos is argument by logic.

Via Thank You for Arguing:

“Logos is argument by logic.  If arguments were children, logos would be the brainy one, the big sister who gets top grades in high school.

It doesn’t just follow the logical rules; instead, its techniques use what the audience itself is thinking.”

Argument by Character (Ethos)

Ethos is argument by character.

Via Thank You for Arguing:

“Ethos, or argument by character, employ’s the persuader’s personality, reputation, and ability to look trustworthy.  (While logos sweats over its GPA, ethos gets elected class president.) 

In rhetoric, a sterling reputation is more than just good; it’s persuasive.  I taught my children that lying isn’t just wrong, it’s unpersuasive. 

An audience is more likely to believe a trustworthy persuader, and to accept his argument.  “A person’s life persuades better than his word,” said one of Aristotle’s contemporaries.  This remains true today.  Rhetoric shows how to shine a flattering light on your life.”

Argument by Emotion (Pathos)

Pathos is argument by emotion.

Via Thank You for Arguing:

“Then you have pathos, or argument by emotion, the sibling of the others disrespect, but who gets away with everything. 

Logicians and language snobs hate pathos, but Aristotle himself – the man who invented logic – recognized its usefulness. 

You can persuade someone logically, but as we saw in the last chapter, getting him out of his chair to act on it takes something more combustible.”

Brain, Gut, and Heart

What’s your gut say?  What’s your heart say?  What’s your mind telling you?

Via Thank You for Arguing:

“Logos, ethos, and pathos appeal to the brain, gut, and heart of your audience.  While our brain tries to sort the facts, our gut tells us whether we can trust the other person, and our heart makes us want to do something about it.  They form the essence of effective persuasion.”

Your Opponent’s Logic and Your Audience’s Emotion

You can play off logic, but remember to keep the emotional connection and trust.

Via Thank You for Arguing:

“Logos, pathos, and ethos usually work together to win an argument, debates with argumentative seven-year-olds excepted.  By using your opponent’s logic and your audience’s emotion, you can win over your audience with greater ease.  You make them happy to let you control the argument.”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Character trumps emotion trumps logic.  Don’t just go for the logical win, build rapport.  Remember the golden rule of “rapport before influence.”
  • Win the heart, the mind follows.   If their hearts not in it, that’s a problem.  Something is telling them that something is off.  You need to know the concerns.  It could be anything from fear to a lack of trust.   One thing that helps is simply to ask, “what’s the concern.”
  • Read the situation.  This is crucial and there’s two parts.  First, know the culture and what’s valued.  You could be in a situation where logic is the highest value.  This is more common in engineering organizations.  You might be in a situation where emotions have a higher value.  Second, know who needs to be on board.  Social proof and character are powerful.
  • Have the right people on your side.   if you win the pillars first, it’s a domino effect.
  • Win the brain, gut and heart.  It’s the full-meal deal.  It’s hard for somebody to really follow when they aren’t fully bought in.  Their mind says one thing, but their heart says another.  They want to believe you but they have this funny feeling inside that says something’s off.  Congruence is a key to effectiveness.  A good test is how well they tell your story without you.
  • Know the emotional triggers.   How does your audience feel about the topic?  Throwing data at them won’t help if you don’t leverage your empathic listening skills and feel their pain or feel their fears.  Build a bridge.
  • Leverage metaphors.   The right picture can make all the difference.   Is it a bear of a problem or blue skies ahead?
  • Know their convincer strategy.  Do you know what your audience responds to?  Some people like facts and figures.  Some need to hear something multiple times.  Some people believe it when they see it.  The more you know their convincer strategy, the more effective you will be.

Questions for Comments

  1. What are the keys to character that makes somebody influential?
  2. How can you use your mind, body, and heart to make more effective decisions?

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  1. Hey Andre

    Thanks for stopping by. Yes, body language is key too. Along those lines, I would add voice quality. The secret to voice quality is breathing deeply. It’s the shallow breaths where you can’t hit a note or say your point.

  2. […] Report Not constrained to print, StreamServe Persuasion offers enterprises the ability Character Trumps Emotion Trumps Logic – 12/23/2008 [ CharacterTrumpsEmotionTrumpsLogic] Photo by SqueakyMarmot If […]

  3. Could you provide examples of the Big Three? I know it’s hard to come up with an example that doesn’t feel phony or simplistic, but examples are always good for making a point.

  4. @ Rubio


    Let’s say you’re doing a project. You got a great slide with all the numbers. The math looks good – it shows the total budget and your monthly spend. You show the ROI in terms of users and satisfaction numbers. That’s great, but it’s all logic. The numbers folks are happy and you won their mind, but you didn’t win their heart.

    Now let’s say you have a slide for your vision. And on this vision slide, you have a giant. Actually, you have a team of giants. And the giants are helping each other up. And at the bottom, there’s a tag line. The tag line reads, “stand on the shoulders of giants.” You show the slide and then slowly begin to describe your vision. As you say each word, your team and everyone else in the room, feels your passion escalate. That’s the emotional side.

    Now let’s say you have Guy Kawasaki weight in right up front, telling your stakeholders he believes in the vision and the numbers are solid. Guy is your character play. The audience trusts him and your project is approved.

    Does that help?

  5. I think a good book that talks about logic not getting people off their feet is “The Heart of Change.” Fascinating book on getting people to feel the need for change.

  6. @ Chris

    Thanks for stopping by. Good recommendation on The Heart of Change. I just took a fast look through it and I really like its structure and focus. You summed it up nicely.

    I included a snapshot of the TOC for others to see:
    – Introduction – The Heart of Change
    – Step 1 – Increase Urgency
    – Step 2 – Building the Guiding Team
    – Step 3 – Get the Vision Right
    – Step 4 – Communicate for Buy-In
    – Step 5 – Empower Action
    – Step 6 – Create Short-Term Wins
    – Step 7 – Don’t Let Up
    – Step 8 – Make Change Stick
    – Conclusion – We See, We Feel, We Change

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