The legendary Greek philosopher Aristotle listed three rhetorical appeals; ethos, pathos and logos. The fourth was wine, but as we already know its appeal well enough, we will leave any further discussion of it till May 1, Midsummer or New Year's Eve.
Since rhetorical principles aim for effective communication, even engineers will benefit from contemplating this classical triangle on a weekly basis.
Let us begin with the big E. Ethos is created in the consciousness of the listener, or the recipient. Ethos refers to the credibility of the sender of the message. No matter how credible the sender believes his or her message or persona is, the final truth lies in the interpretation by the recipient. The good news is that the interpretation can be worked on. The best way to ensure credibility is through skill, and skill can be obtained through practice. You may begin, say, by building your language skills... my apologies, no advertising intended.
Pathos is probably in generous supply in your own home; remembering gender equality, let us just say that it may be provided by your spouse or life partner when required. I leave the reader to interpret what this means – some of you may even choose to call this sort of pathos nagging. Aristotle, however, defined pathos as the appeal to the listener's emotions, making the listener more responsive to the actual message. Once again, skill plays a key role: charismatic speakers use pathos with natural ease, while the average Joe or Jane must practice in order to learn the skill. If the speaker lacks in skill and the pathos becomes nagging, the impact may be reversed: emotions are certainly raised, but responsiveness is radically reduced. The message will fall on deaf ears and feelings turn sour.
Finally, let's discuss logos. We are finally getting to the point. When hard facts are on the table, the finer aspects of the relationship between the speaker and the listener lose a lot of their importance. Basically, logos means factual argumentation. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. There's no disputing that. But since not all communicators and recipients are engineers, you should also make use of multilingual ethos and pathos – with attention to cultural differences, of course – to get your logos through. There's no disputing that either.
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