The Best Sales Guru in History? Aristotle

I’ve met a number of professionals who, at one time or another, have brought up taking a public speaking class in college. They usually say the same two things:

“It was one of the most useful classes I ever took!” and some version of, “It was hard and wasn’t very exciting.”

The first part is almost certainly true. Any time we can get better at communicating, we’re doing something insanely useful. The second part is also probably accurate, too; analyzing how and why you speak is brutally difficult, and it’s not that exciting.

Until it pays off, that is. Until you lure that incredible talent to your business, until you land a massive client, until your employees actually look forward to weekly meetings -- or, in our case, until we successfully match a business with a PEO who makes their life a lot easier.

That happens so often because we think deeply about all aspects of communication, including persuasion and instruction. Masters of communication are masters of sales -- and the all-time best may have been Aristotle.


Persuasion Is Really About Meeting Others’ Needs


Persuasion, on its surface, might sound selfish. But is it getting people to do what you want them to do? Or is it actually helping other people do what they want themselves to do, or what they know they should do?

Sometimes it’s the first part, but every successful business owner knows that you won’t get very far without a laser-like focus on the second part. Every company on some level is in the business of making other people happy. Sales expert Jeffrey Gitomer reminds us frequently that, “People hate to be sold to, but they love to buy.” Every day you’re getting customers, employees, and the community to buy into something.

And that happens, writes Mortimer Adler in “How to Speak, How to Listen”, by focusing on the same principles Aristotle outlined over 2,000 years ago. Always an academic, Adler outlines them as ethos, pathos, and logos -- but it’s simpler than the original Greek. Ethos is your image and credibility; pathos is an appeal to another’s emotions; and logos is an appeal to reason.

That’s effective communication, most of which is some form of sales. Without ethos, no one’s buying your widget, trusting you with their life savings, or taking that job you’ve just offered them. Without pathos, you’ll fail to connect with customers and employees on a meaningful, personal level. Without logos, you’ll fail to make the nuts and bolts of a conversation resonate.

Can you think of a relationship in your business that doesn’t depend on the smart execution of all three? Probably not, and same with your personal life.

You’re likely better at one element than the others. We all are. Is ethos your thing because you teem with credibility? Are you known for nailing the pathos and connecting on a deeper level with the people around you? Or are you that logos person others turn to when they need the straight, objective truth?

It leans academic, but it hits our reality square in the face. How do you usually communicate? Which of those three aspects do you need to pay more attention to? What’s natural for you, and what requires a bit of extra effort?

Like those public speaking classes, it may not be easy or wildly exciting, but answering those questions and working to improve are some of the most useful things we’ll ever do if we’re serious about communicating -- and it’s been that way since the 4th century BC.

Rodney Steele