Sales, Marketing and Communication

Better communication with ethos, pathos and logos

Do you lack effectiveness and power when you communicate? Look to good old Aristotle before you say anything.

Your communication becomes more powerful if you apply Aristoteles’ three ways of communicating: ethos, pathos and logos, when you talk to your employees. When you use both ethos, pathos and logos you ensure that your listeners understand your message, trust you as a sender and remember the emotions (which makes it easier for you to persuade to do something).

Aristotle calls this rhetoric. Rhetoric deals with making a particular thing more plausible, for instance, that the best thing for your new customers is to buy your product, or that the best thing for your employees is to support the new strategy. Rhetoric does not, on the other hand, deal with topics that cannot be discussed: That there are trees in the forest or that 2 + 2 = 4.

In order to communicate effectively, you must use all three appeals and thus speak to both the audience’s feelings (pathos and ethos) and their intellect (logos). Logos is an appeal to reason that makes the things you say seem logic. Pathos is about provoking your audience’s feelings. Ethos is about getting your audience to trust you and your words.

How to use the appeals

Logos takes advantage of your audience’s logical sense. When you appeal to reason, you must show that what you present is well-supported, factual and clearly structured. Focus is on numbers and facts and things that can be measured and weighed. Be clinical and avoid emotional influences. An example could be: Research shows that smoking can cause cancer, therefore you shouldn't smoke.” Be careful that you don't use logos too long, because it will soon seem grey and boring.

With pathos you appeal to people’s here-and-now emotions. We are talking happiness, anger, indignation, pity, shame and fear. Describe in details people’s actions and the things they are saying. Preferably, use a vigorous language spiced with stories, analogies and metaphors. This way you create an image in people’s minds. And images speak to our emotions. A good example of pathos is advertising which have a special ability of persuading people into doing something specific.

Use ethos to get your audience to trust you and the things you say, before your try to convince them of your message. To do this, you must appear trustworthy, and your audience must feel that you know something about the topic. Likewise, they must think that you are sympathetic. Or else they won't listen. Ethos is an expression of the belief and perception that a recipient has towards a sender in a specific moment.

Possessing ethos requires three parameters: Skills, moral habitus and kindness.

  1. Skills and competence
    Here, the sender demonstrates professional skills and competence, a broad overview and insight regarding rules, circumstances and details that may have the interest to the recipient. Skills also imply calmness, consistency, common sense, earned experience, professional maintenance, knowledge, understanding of society and the world

  2. High moral (moral habitus)
    The sender shows an understanding of what is proper and what is not under specific circumstances. Moral habitus also means that the sender is honest, does “spin”, use white lies, falseness in any way, secrets or twists. Show that you are incorruptible and with high integrity.

  3. Kindness
    Call it service, kindness or helpfulness. The sender demonstrates that he is willing to do something for the sake of others, also without gaining from it himself. You simply want what is best for the recipient and is in fact interested in and determined to provide a service.

Good ethos can for instance be achieved by demonstrating that you know something about your topic, from telling a self-experienced story or from showing that you understand your audience’s feelings. Ethos can also be created if you refer to another person with good ethos.

If your ethos isn't in place, it doesn't matter how good you are at presenting your logical arguments (logos) or how well you address your audience’s feelings (pathos).

Ethos, pathos and logos generally reinforce each other. If you manage to integrate all three elements in your communication, you create a good foundation for efficient and persuading communication.


You damage your ethos if:

  • You brag or promote yourself unnecessarily or too much.
  • You don't like your audience.
  • Du generalize and lack nuances.
  • You speak ill of your counterpart.
  • You enjoy listening to yourself speak.
  • You're more absorbed in the cause than the audience, and only use logos.
  • You speak of numbers and facts that your audience knows are incorrect.
  • You complain.