A ballet to persuade: ethos and instinct

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In the previous article (here) I wrote how to make a great first impression. It’s just a part of the dance that will make you enjoyable. Today I am writing how to use words and language structures to favor ETHOS, which represents your ETHICS and therefore be credible for your audience.

In the next few days I will talk about how to behave to be exciting and reasoning.

I have already said (here) that ETHOS belongs to the reptile brain, in charge of survivalship, and answers the question: “can I trust this person/speech?” If the answer is yes, all right. Conversely, the brain suggests an escape (in your case disinterest) for what had been heard. I also said that the reptilian brain produces serotonin (its equivalent is Prozac) and is stimulated by everything that a primitive man would favor: empathy, emotion, involvement.

To be empathetic: the artfully vague language

It is a artfully vague language because it lets an inconscious meaning appears from the deep inside without being specific on any matter. An example:

Many stressed people because of events sometimes realize that they have more ability to be used than they thought. Such resources come from their previous experiences and you will certainly have spent something similar in your life. When unpleasant events happen, you thought about, found analogies with your past and the way you got out. Your inner dialogue tells you “but even at that time … and then I did …” and you found the solution that is right for you, from your unconscious inside. And just as you have thought at these things, you can think of other situations where these skills will be useful to you.

This sample can work in many cases. Everyone can potentially recognize themselves in what is written. And whoever is in troubles, by hearing such words, will probably feel understood, heard. And empathy goes to the fullest.

For example, a customer may ask

how do I know that this product will work on my case?

And you could answer that

I’m pretty sure, as many users have already discovered by using this product according to the indications, that you might in principle get up to 50% additional customers, thus improving your revenue.

You’ve said a lot: you’ve demonstrated certainty, you’ve talked about other customers (Cialdini’s rules) you talked about the possibility and you used a phrase, in principle, that’s powerful. So you have continued with up to 50% (does not mean 50%), and you talked about improving your sales. Of course, even 2% improves sales.

Please, remember one important thing: using artfully vague language is a piece of art, it has to be studied carefully and for that I recommend Milton Erikson’s books. Nominations, undetermined process verbs, complex equivalencies and cause-effects, in addition to universal quantifiers, referential indexes, and hidden commands are the basics to start with. Again remember that you must really believe in what you say, or let it be: your body talks about you and you thoughts more than you can imagine, and it will reveal easily.

Besides, it’s a matter of chemistry.

Emotion: the use of metaphors

Metaphors are a means of speaking different for every country, so be careful how and whom you are going to use them. Also, always remembering our primitive approach in the reptile brain, consider those that can be easily understood by primitives avoiding words in foreign languages ​or too modern one:

  • Bring a group to destination
  • Get a hand
  • Horizon with limitless possibilities
  • Breathe a good air
  • Let’s face this way together

That’s all. It is simple, but sometimes it falls into some traps as reporting the driving concept (e.g. I’ll drive you to your fullest potential): a prehistoric man did not know what “to drive” means.

Involvement: What does interest to your audience?

First, many studies reveal that the evocative power of the name is very strong. So refer to the person you are talking to by using his/her name.

Then, remember: the difference between manipulation and persuasion is in intent. Your good intentions, aligned with your values ​​and beliefs, lead to persuasion. If you only want to place a product in which you do not believe at all, then you will be manipulating. And, I repeat for your memory, neither your body lies nor chemistry among people.

To be even more engaging, start from a question that unconsciously the person you are in front of ask him/her -self:

what’s in it for me?

That is, find the why for your audience. Why should they listen to you, how do you engage them, how do you put them in the center of the speech? It’s a matter on received benefits, not on given ones. In this regard, if you can occasionally handle the speech with some light joke, making your audience smiling, the better.


One of my preferred mentors, besides some of the things you read in these articles, taught me to learn how to “thank thanklessly”. It might seem a contradiction, however, I invite you to reflect on the meaning received by reading these two sentences:

Thanks, you did a good job


Your work has been very valuable: the data produced, the accuracy in describing them, the punctuality in delivery, was very important to have a great presentation to the group. I really appreciate what you did.

Yeah, it’s longer. And yes, sometimes in some situations you will also settle for the first. However, in the second version you explain why the work is good, and you do it with no-thanks at all (I will explain this concept in another article about Cialdini’s persuasive principles).


If you want to know more, follow me here, on LinkedIn and Facebook and let me know your opinion: any feedback on these topic is very important for improving the community and myself.

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