How to Use Rhetorical Triangle For Better Team Communications
Every team needs to collaborate, communicate, solve problems, and make group decisions. As a leader, your job is to ensure that all of the above happens effectively and that all the projects are completed on time. But how do you persuade your team that a project is worthwhile, that it is necessary, and that you can lead them to successful completion? You may find that the solution lies in what is called the “rhetorical triangle.”
What is the Rhetorical Triangle?
Put simply, rhetoric is both the art and science of persuasion. One person tries to convince an audience to agree with him and then to take action based on that agreement. Previously, we mentioned one effective formula for that – Monroe’s Motivated Sequence. The Rhetorical Triangle is another one.
Aristotle first developed the components of rhetoric – three persuasive appeals known as ethos, pathos, and logos. Combined, these can present a powerful method for effectively delivering any type of message.
Let’s unpack the meaning of the three terms in Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle.
Source: Brian K. Hudson
Logos is the message that the speaker (or writer) wants to deliver. It is the “meat” of the argument. The speaker uses reason and logic, providing facts, statistics, and relying on those to persuade the audience.
Suppose, for example, you were a startup founder, trying to convince a group of investors to back your project. During your pitch, you’ll use different figures to quantify the opportunity e.g. market size stats, projected demand, etc.
Pathos is a Greek word that means “feeling.” This part of your argument appeals to emotions. Humans are emotional creatures, and speakers and writers can use psychological strategies to drive an audience to action.
If you know your audience, you will know which emotional appeals will work. If you are speaking to a group of women about the need for a battered women’s shelter, you will probably tell a few sad stories of real-life examples that will instill empathy and concern. They are then more likely to take the actions you need to get that shelter in place.
Know the audience and what will trigger emotional responses.
Ethos refers to the person who actually delivers the message. Does the audience see them as an expert, as someone who has credibility in the topic area? If so, the audience will listen to that individual.
A medical researcher speaking on the dangers of a specific virus, for example, has an ethos of credibility. A politician would not have such an ethos.
The most successful arguments contain all three of these elements. People in an audience may be persuaded by one, two, or three of these components. If all three are included, it is more likely that a larger percentage will listen and agree.
How You Can Use the Rhetorical Triangle in Team Communications
Your job is to provide purpose, motivation, and direction. When you have a clear understanding of all three factors of rhetoric, you will use them well in your messaging.
Here are a few examples.
1. Introducing New Projects
Some of your team members can be persuaded by the logical need for the outcomes of a project (logos). Other members may want to see the extrinsic value – how will it, for example, improve the lives of others (pathos)?
Let’s say the project is to develop a production method that will use far less water. The “logical” team members will want to understand the facts and figures. How much water savings should be targeted and how much might it save the company in terms of cost? The “emotion-oriented” team member might want to know how this project can be applied to other industries and thus save water on a much larger scale, benefiting mankind.
2. Resolving Conflicts/Issues
Conflict is inevitable as diverse people collaborate on projects. As a leader, you can manage and resolve issues by forcing the participants to use the rhetorical triangle in their own arguments.
Two team members are in conflict about the best marketing strategy to use for a new product. One wants to focus on social media. The other insists that direct advertising is a better route. As a leader, you want them to present their arguments in a logical way but also to show how their strategies will appeal to the emotions of the intended audience. You ask them to go back and research the data and statistics on the success of their campaign strategy with similar products in similar industries. You may also ask them to come up with marketing messages that will appeal to the emotions of the target audience. They can then present their case to each other, using both logos and pathos.
Leaders can train their team members to use the rhetorical triangle to problem-solve among themselves.
An executive leader is meeting with his department managers to solve the problem of too much absenteeism and low employee engagement. All of these managers may have opinions or ideas about the causes and possible solutions. These may have merit or not. As a leader, you present the large issue, providing the logos (facts and statistics by department) and then provide an “emotional” hook, perhaps the damage that this level of absenteeism is causing and possible negative consequences. A little bit of fear is a powerful emotion.
You then send these team members back to their departments to conduct research (perhaps meetings, anonymous surveys, etc.) to find causes and develop possible solutions for those causes. They come back to the group and present their own rhetorical arguments. These should include the facts from their research (logos) but also the needs/wants of employees that are not being met (pathos). This part of the argument may have an emotional appeal with C-level executives and motivate them to provide a “healthier” environment for all employees.
The goal of any rhetoric is to ensure that your audience receives your message as you intended. For this, you need to establish yourself as an expert, lay out the facts in a logical way, and appeal to emotions that will motivate action. When you do this, and also train your team members to do the same, the whole organization benefits.
Photo by Dylan Gillis