Posted by: kerrywills | November 24, 2009

Tip: Focus on persuasion

Persuasion is the ability to convince another person to do something. There are many instances on a project where a Project Manager will need to persuade stakeholders. Some examples include:

  • Asking project team members to do work and meet project commitments without having direct authority over them.
  • Asking managers and stakeholders for resources or information which are needed on the project.
  • When setting expectations with stakeholders a Project Manager often has to persuade them with the reasoning behind their information.
  • Raising issues or risks to project sponsors and getting buy in and approval for the recommendations.

According to Aristotle, rhetoric is “the ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion.” He described three main forms of persuasion: Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Each of these can be used depending on the situation.

  • Ethos is appeal based on the character of the speaker. An ethos-driven document relies on the reputation of the author. This is where the personal credibility of the Project Manager plays a role. Sometimes it is helpful to start off a conversation to establish this credibility. For example, if there is a technical issue that needs a decision a Project Manager may bring in some of the technical experts on the team and introduce them as such.
  • Pathos is appeal based on emotion. This is where a person is persuaded based on their set of values. This may be a way to motivate the team towards meeting project goals or rallying them around a crisis.
  • Logos is appeal based on logic or reason. This means to persuade people with facts and information. This is especially effective when asking management for a decision or in a crisis where action is needed.

There are several things to keep in mind around persuasion:

  • Try not to appear to be going to great lengths to persuade somebody. It must come across as genuine and not as manipulative (Ethos)
  • Don’t preach too much or people will just close their options to the point where influence has been lost on them (Ethos)
  • Try to relate to the audiences  (Ethos)
  • Show people the benefits of the idea specifically geared towards how it will impact them (Pathos)
  • Prepare for any contradictions by considering the audience and what push back might be given (Logos)

Jedi Mind Persuasion

Note: This is an excerpt from my upcoming book and will be copyrighted text


  1. 2 questions. which -thos do you find most effective? and second, are you using this blog to persuade people??

  2. At the end of your excerpt you say that trying to relate to audiences is using Ethos. However, I feel that if you’re trying to put yourself in their shoes to understand their point of view you are likely using Pathos. Once you can determine how the audience feels or will feel about something you can then use that to your advantage as you try and persuade them. Your persuasive points will evoke their appeal based on emotion.

    • Larry – I try to use all three – my credibility, emotion and logic when attempting to persuade others but it really is about reading the audience and seeing what they relate to.

      Darren – Agree that emotion is also a big piece of relating to people. Personally I think you need to establish credibility first before you can use the other two areas.

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