Monthly Archives: May 2013

Convincing is not a one-size-fits-all thing

When it comes to influencing or convincing people, the baseline model has been laid down thousands of years ago by Aristotle. Nothing new here. the 3 key aspects he described are:

  • Ethos: Describes your credibility to deliver the argument. Why your experience, education, position, etc. makes you relevant for the audience when it comes to listening to you on the topic you are addressing?
  • Pathos: the emotional aspect of the argument. Why would a person actually care about hearing or discussing about this.
  • Logos: Logic, the actual argument(s) you use to convince.

More on these highly documented and studied concepts abound on the Internet so you can start there if you want to learn more: Therefore, I’m not going to spend much time on the first 2.

Ethos is about ensuring you have and demonstrate your credentials before trying to convince. For instance I write this blog post because of the thousands of sales, product, business, or people-issues related arguments I had to make across multiple cultures and company sizes. This extensive experience, and various formal institutional and professional trainings, taught me a few thing about Logos.

Pathos is about building a rapport with the person you want to convince. If possible before you need to influence someone, you need to build a rapport with him. Then, you need to communicate your arguments in words that matter to the person (what’s in it for them?). In this case you’re reading this blog post so you already know me in person or through this blog.

However, and even if I know that both of those are simpler said than done, I am going to spend the remainder of this post on the third one: the argument itself (Logos)

As many of you know from having been through various personality tests during your college years and career, and regardless whether it was Myers-Briggs, Insights, or other similar models, people have different personality traits that can be mapped along various axis. However, especially in engineering heavy fields (high-tech, finance…) and thanks to the broad availability of data and tools (from Excel to advanced Business Intelligence tools), I have often seen a one-size-fits all to business presentations: the data driven one. My argument is that, although using hard data to make large scale decisions is extremely important, only using data is missed opportunity. Using only data for experiments is great, it helps you validate assumptions, build your own understand of what seems to be working or not, etc. I’m not talking about quick A/B testing when I say it’s misguided. I’m talking about the big work and life decision or arguments.

Let me start with the –sorry- easy way out for those starting to think I’m losing my mind talking data up here: Steve Jobs. He did not use Excel to make his decisions and he did pretty well. So now that this is out of the way let me get to the core of my argument. It was Steve Jobs. Most of us aren’t Steve Jobs caliber went it comes to vision, nor can we impose our views like he did.

I believe that every good (business) argument should always have 3 core elements. Whether it’s a business plan to get your start-up funded or a new corporate project, if you cover all these 3 bases you will be able to touch all types of personalities and make it much more likely to succeed.

1) Hard Data. Yes, the right data is always a good idea to have. It looks objective (but we know that in business and other aspects of life, data set and interpretations can very often be carefully selected to highlight what we are trying to achieve), and can be shared easily. It also takes emotions out of the equation. My favorite tongue-and-cheek data quote being that 83% of all statistics used in arguments are made up on the spot, like this 83% was.

2) Logic. This is the “Why”  behind the data. It’s important to explain why something happens, or will be possible, the way it is. How did you come to this conclusion. If you can take a rational, Cartesian approach to explain your point step-by-step people will be able to get to multiple “yes”  in the process and won’t feel odd by a somewhat un-intuitive numerical result or real-life example. I have found that using analogies are a powerful way to explain this logical process for issues that are new to a business or a situation.

3) Real life example. This is the one that can be often omitted in business but is so powerful when brought on the table. This is the customer discussion you had 2 weeks ago that goes in the same direction that your argument is going. It’s the personal anecdote that ads color and potentially generates the “get it” moment for people. The caveat is when the example is the only argument you have or when, out of 10 customer meetings, you only use the single one going in your direction. Similarly to data, real-life examples can be twisted to mean anything. Finally, if one example is an anecdote, 5 or 10 of them with the right logic and quantitative data are the nail on the coffin of a persuasive argument.

If you present an argument leveraging these 3 approaches, your chances of success will be much greater than if you only use 1 or 2 of them. In this case, the impact of the whole is indeed greater than sum of its parts.

Let me close by giving you a small example that will illustrate why I believe this is the right approach, and in particular that a data only approach is not the right one.

One of the key axis in personality trait tests is about being more fact/data vs. people oriented. Even in highly data focused cultures, like in high-tech, I have never seen more than 60 to 70% of the population being more “data” than “ people”  focused. If you only use data you will miss out on the (at minima) 30-40% of the people that are not naturally inclined to focus on data first. (data argument)

This makes sense, data has often been used the wrong way. For instance in his book, Straight From the Gut, Jack Welch wrote about how average on time deliveries were used to measure success only to end-up with a system with huge variability but still a close-to-perfect average delivery time. The average delivery time was maybe 15 days…. but plus or minus 4 days. Hardly great predictability for GE’s customers. (example argument)

No one is never purely a “data” person, or a “people” one.  Even the most rational people will still have emotions influencing them. You just have to look at the most rational, poised, data centric person you know when one argues with him or her on religion, politics, a sport (s)he is really into, etc. This will convince you that we all have a non-data, emotional and subjective sides and these sides need to be catered to as well when we need to be convinced. (logical argument).

Convinced yet?