I’ve always wished that I could speak with eloquence, pounding my fist and showing the passion I feel for an issue. Just like speakers in great movie scenes and historical leaders whose speeches are still memorized today, I’ve wanted to use charisma and emotion to make a difference. But in the midst of these compelling images, it’s often easy to forget that truth, timing and attitude are just as important as emotion.
Thousands of years ago, Aristotle established three factors behind effective persuasion: Character, Emotion and Truth. These components are still important today, because persuasion is not merely a matter of words; it is an effective presentation of the truth. Truth is the ultimate standard and goal of persuasiveness, but the honest facts need the character of the persuader and sincere emotion to be effective.
Persuasiveness is not deciding whether or not we should speak the truth, but how we should speak the truth in a manner that will be accepted. The first key to persuasiveness is verifying the facts and communicating an accurate picture. When relaying information, sometimes it’s easy to put a twist on the story or distort the meaning. And how many times have we felt compelled to try and right a wrong only to find out we didn’t have all the facts to begin with?
Vital to persuasiveness is the understanding of how our experiences, beliefs, and character flaws shape the way we see the world. Our focus should be on finding the truth instead of defending a position, and we should take personal responsibility to speak accurately.
But the character of the presenter is as much—if not more so—a part of the presentation as any words used to deliver the message. The decisions we make and the way we live day to day can affect our ability to persuade someone when the stakes are high. Everyone is familiar with the fable of the boy who cried “wolf.” When crying “wolf,” the boy showed emotion and passion, but after falsely crying “wolf” multiple times, the boy’s lack of character and truth was evident. When a wolf actually came he was unable to persuade those around him for assistance.
Finally, emotion, or charisma, plays an important role in persuasiveness. But real, sincere emotion—emotion based in truth!—is the most winsome, and certainly most rooted in good character. In the end, instead of forcing ideas on others or impressing others with emotional, eloquent and dynamic speech, real persuasiveness means working through the maze of misunderstanding and falsehoods that prevent good communication.
Aristotle’s three factors are equally important in any persuasive attempt, regardless of the speaker—Prime Minister, spiritual leader, army general, civil rights activist, or everyday citizen trying to do what is right. So even if eloquence and great passion don’t come quite as naturally to me as to some, I know what I can balance to be persuasive.
Character. Truth. And Emotion.
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