The Language of Influence
Influence may be the highest level of human skills.
– Author Unknown
“The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”
Kenneth H. Blanchard
Growing up as the son of ‘old school’ missionary parents, I was exposed to ‘old school’ preaching… the kind that would embrace loud, demonstrative examples of hell spewing forth from the bowels of the earth as penalty for the many sins I had… if a 10-year-old could have them… or the heavens opening to the sounds of beautiful, soothing harps… and angels singing when I repented of those said sins.
I would spend hours listening to these preachers extrapolate deep and meaningful ideas from a simple, single verse of scripture and marvel at how they shaped and crafted their thoughts into a message that would easily last a captivating hour, and sometimes more.
I found myself dissecting each message, like a biology research student, looking for what it was that drew me in, tactics they would use to incite me to bring my point of view into alignment with their way of seeing a subject. To convince me to change my mind or to believe something I did not previously believe.
That all started 47 years ago when I was at the ripe old age of 10.
Since then I’ve heard hundreds, possibly thousands of communicators as I’ve set out to pursue being a world class communicator myself. Some I’ve heard have been outstanding and others have been completely forgettable. Those that were outstanding possessed an ability to create ‘action’ as a result of their communication.
In the palm of their hands
I recall in the early 1990’s I was privileged to sit in an audience and listen to the profound Og Mandino. This quiet-spoken man held 8000 people in the palm of his hand, metaphorically. I will never forget the feeling I experienced watching him subtly shift the audience one way, and then the other, with just the slight shift of his feet or cadence of his voice. Mesmerizing!
I’ve also had the pleasure of listening to speakers like Mark Hanby and Tom Fred Tenny, Jeff Arnold and Anthony Mangun… all master storytellers and orators.
These people hold a position of significance in my life because they influenced me.
To influence someone means you have had an effect on the character or behavior of that person. And over the years my character and behavior have been influenced by those communicators who I have opened my heart and mind too.
People like John Maxwell, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes have all chiseled and crafted part of my character and behavior through their audio programs.
In the early 90’s I spent an hour a day listening to Brian Tracy audio tapes. In the late 90’s I would never travel (and I travelled a lot), without John Maxwell with me in the form of a cassette album.
Over the past 20 years Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes have been my constant companions, unlocking, inspiring and influencing my mindset and self-belief system.
Their words became my university for personal and professional growth. They became my mentors even though they’ve never met me. They were able to do this because they spoke a certain language… ‘the language of influence’.
The Language of Influence
Language is a preferred method of human communication, either verbal or visual. Pictures and words have meaning and this meaning will generate, or elicit, a response from the audience, which in turn, results in a negative, neutral or positive reaction.
There’s no real mystery to speaking the language of influence. Aristotle identified the essence of this language thousands of years ago when he said, “All communication must lead to change.” He then gave us three elements that when combined together and used with insight, wisdom and skill, would become a way of communicating so that people will be influenced to effect a change.
Ethos, Pathos & Logos
2300 years ago, Aristotle opened our eyes to the power of influence and this simple, powerful and effective formula has been the foundation, in one way or another, of nearly every communication book written since then.
Aristotle taught that all effective communication combines three elements together:
- Ethos: credibility (or character) of the speaker
- Pathos: emotional connection to the audience
- Logos: logical argument
All communication must lead to change!
When you are in front of an audience talking about your business, you do so with the intent of having something happen, change, improve, shift. There is a purpose and objective you are trying to move your audience towards.
When preparing a written document, speech or presentation you should first consider the three elements required for influence. If your communication is lacking in any of the three, then you’ll decrease the overall influence your message will have on your audience.
To be fluent in speaking the language of influence you will need to appeal to all three of the elements.
If your communication is based purely on emotion, it will lack the substance required to bring about change. Likewise, if all you do is focus on facts and figures, you will lose your audience’s interest and they won’t be able to relate to what you are saying.
Even if you communicate with emotion and logic but you have not established your authority, your credibility, then your audience will struggle to believe in you… and your message.
So, let’s take a closer look at the three elements and how to use them most effectively in our business communications.
The first level of acceptance by an audience is whether or not you are credible. Before you can influence an audience to accept anything you say, they have to accept you as credible.
The language of credibility is based on:
Keep in mind that it isn’t enough for you to know that you are a credible source. (This isn’t about your confidence, experience, or expertise.) In most cases the audience want to know, before anything else, who they are dealing with… who you are, why you are competent to communicate on your subject and where your authority comes from while at the same time they will be trying to figure out what your motives are, what you believe and value.
This information helps them determine your credibility and decide whether you are being sincere. This is the first element in the language of influence.
- the quality of being trusted and believed in | synonyms: trustworthiness, reliability, dependability, integrity, character
- the quality of being convincing or believable | synonyms: plausibility, believability, acceptability, tenability, probability, likelihood, authority,authoritativeness, impressiveness, cogency, weight, validity, soundness
- a strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others | synonyms: feeling, sentiment, sensation
- instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge | synonyms: instinct, intuition, gut feeling, inclination
“To understand the emotions—that is, to name them and describe them, to know their causes and the way in which they are excited.”
The ability to tap into audience’s emotions can evoke feelings of connectedness and evoke the motivation to act, to do something as a result of your message. The language of emotion is based on:
- Vivid storytelling
- Descriptive use of language
- Engaging delivery of information
- Emotional emphasis in themes and words
It is human nature to buy on emotion and justify with logic. I have said this for over 20 years and it has always made intuitive sense to me… but I’ve struggled with it rationally… logically. So, I went in search of something that would irrefutably support my intuition. Here’s what I’ve found. According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of our purchase decisions take place unconsciously… the emotional level of our decision making process. And yet, when we seek to influence business people, we communicate, almost exclusively, from a position of logic! And then we come back to our office and wonder why the audience didn’t do what we wanted or needed them to do as a result of our communication.
“Persuasion occurs through the arguments when we show the truth or the apparent truth from whatever is persuasive in each case.”
You audience will be processing your message by asking themselves questions like:
- Does your message make sense?
- Is your message based on facts, statistics, and evidence?
- Will your call-to-action lead to the desired outcome that you promise and how is this supported?
Clear, concise and logical communication provides substance. Aristotle believed that humans were fundamentally reasonable and are capable of making decisions based on what makes the most sense to them. The language of logic is based on:
In short it is a question of validating what you are trying to communicate. So, how do we start to tie this together?
- reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity | synonyms: reasoning, deduction, thought, dialectics, argumentation, ratiocination
Create a narrative that makes sense!
Remember, central to the human psyche is an insatiable need to “believe in” and “be apart of“, counterbalanced by an equally powerful need to “not look stupid“.
As a result our minds constantly filter information as an extension process to our “fight or flight” response… “Do I?” or “Don’t I?”
When you start breaking down and analysing the styles and technique of the truly great influencers, not just of our time – but all time, you discover mastery of the narrative.
They don’t slap together a talk or presentation, they work with the mind and create a narrative that flows logically, in such a way that it leads the audience naturally in the desired direction.
Key to the effectiveness of this narrative is ensuring the audience knows where they are and where they are going within the context of the narrative. This sense of knowing puts the mind at rest by negating any perceived negatives.
Creating these requires having a logical framework to operate within to be most effective. For us and our clients that is the 13 Box Structure, which I created to help organise thoughts, create flow and develop narratives that bring the right mix of logic and linguistics into your communication.
So, there you have it, the language of influence.
Ethos – Building trust by establishing your credibility and authority.
Pathos – Appealing to emotion by connecting with your audience through their values and interests.
Logos – Appeal to intelligence with well-constructed and clearly argued ideas.
To help you with your next presentation, your next written communication or the next time you are asked to speak with a client, you can download the EPIC Communicator Quick Guide. This guide will help you create an engaging, persuasive, impacting and compelling communication… using the language of influence.
Making persuasive arguments is not easy. By applying the language of influence to your initial planning, you can significantly increase the success of your communication.
Your audience want to know that you are credible, trustworthy and reliable. They also want to know that you understand them and this is demonstrated by the way you connect with them emotionally. and They also want your message to make sense, to be rational, supported with relevant supporting data.
Learning to communicate using the language of influence will change your life. It will change the lives of people who hear or read your communication.