Persuading Aristotle: A Master Class in the Timeless Art of Strategic Persuasion in Business

John B. Washbush (Assistant Professor of Management, University of Wisconsin‐Whitewater, Whitewater, WI, USA)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 1 May 2000

509

Citation

Washbush, J.B. (2000), "Persuading Aristotle: A Master Class in the Timeless Art of Strategic Persuasion in Business", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 335-340. https://doi.org/10.1108/jmd.2000.19.4.335.2

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Overview

This book intends and attempts to provide the reader with a framework for developing rhetorical (persuasive) skills in delivering business presentations, participating in negotiations, and interacting with members of the media. The author, a radio personality, consultant and educator in Australia, strives to provide a basis in Aristotelean rhetorical concepts.

The book is structured in seven chapters which are moderately short, topically focused and easy to read:

  1. 1.

    (1) How persuasion works: what Aristotle taught.

  2. 2.

    (2) Thinking and organizing.

  3. 3.

    (3) Persuasive language.

  4. 4.

    (4) How to persuade different personalities.

  5. 5.

    (5) Step‐by‐step business presentations.

  6. 6.

    (6) The astute negotiator.

  7. 7.

    (7) Dealing with the media.

There is a short bibliography and the book is indexed. Although there are a number of quotations and attributions made throughout the text, no standard source citations are provided. The target audience is therefore business or organizational practitioners who routinely perform some or all of the persuasive activities discussed.

Content

The first two chapters focus on classical principles of rhetoric and the structuring of a persuasive argument. These concepts are used to lead the reader to three structures recommended for (1) creating presentations, (2) building reports and (3) answering questions:

Presentation structure:

  1. 1.

    (1) Offering a “bait” (arousing interest).

  2. 2.

    (2) Stating the problem or question.

  3. 3.

    (3) Providing a solution or answer.

  4. 4.

    (4) Identifying the payoff or benefit from adopting the solution or answer.

  5. (5)

    Climaxing with an emotive call to action.

Report structure:

  1. (1)

    Synopsis of a situation.

  2. (2)

    Identification of complicating issues.

  3. (3)

    Posing a key question about what can or should be done.

  4. (4)

    Proving an answer or plan of action.

Question answering structure:

  1. (1)

    Stating what is the main point.

  2. (2)

    Providing logical support for that point.

  3. (3)

    Illustrating with an example.

Additionally provided, in relation to the preparation and delivery of an argument, is a discussion of the use of deductive and inductive reasoning (the author exposes a preference for inductive argumentation which he describes as more creative and powerful).

Chapters 3 and 4 make sharp departures from philosophical concepts and are psychologically focused. Chapter 3 makes an emphatic argument for balancing analytical and logical concepts (left brain) with creative, metaphoric, sensually‐descriptive and emotionally‐based language (right brain). The author argues at some length for using language that creates word pictures, employs metaphor, incorporates humour, and tells a story.

Chapter 4 attempts to define personality styles, in terms somewhat reflective of concepts of psychological type, as defined by the Myers‐Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The author defines four personality styles:

  1. (1)

    Auditor – introverted thinker – logically oriented to process

  2. (2)

    Sharer – introverted feeler – relationship oriented

  3. (3)

    Shaker – extroverted thinker – logically oriented to bottom‐lineconsiderations

  4. (4)

    Communicator – extroverted feeler – involved‐excitement oriented

The author provides descriptions of the focus and response patterns of these personalities, and argues that one should know the personal style and learn how to play to all of these styles.

Chapter 5 blends philosophy with psychology and reflects classical principles of rhetoric, introduced in Chapters 1 and 2, and analogously frames the preparation and delivery of presentations as a five‐step process:

  1. (1)

    Classical principles – presentation process steps

  2. (2)

    Invention (central question) – wear the clients’ shoes

  3. (3)

    Arrangement (structure and order) – organize

  4. (4)

    Style (use of language) – style (language)

  5. (5)

    Memory (memorization) – charts and speaker aids

  6. (6)

    Delivery (aligning voice and body language) – delivery (attention to non‐verbals)

This chapter continues by offering a series of useful guidelines for each of the five steps. These are loaded with behaviourally flavoured insights and recommendations.

Chapters 6 and 7 are provided as continuations of previous themes, but, in reality, they seem to be more add‐ons containing useful tips for people engaged in negotiations or likely to meet and respond to journalists and others in the mass media.

Evaluation

This is clearly not a scholarly text, despite its rather grandiose title. References to classical Greek and Roman concepts of rhetoric not withstanding, the book is more psychological than philosophical. In fact, it might have been better titled, Mastering the Art of Persuasion. Such a title would have more clearly informed the prospective reader of what to expect.

The primary audience is not necessarily managerial. People who are consultants or are expected to act as spokespersons or representatives of organizations may find the book useful.

Positive aspects of the book are numerous examples of situations, actions, and successful practitioners. On the negative side, there is a general lack of depth, shallow development of personality style issues, and a structure that is more thrown together than effectively integrated.

Although the author protests briefly about the importance of basing persuasive arguments in valid and ethical positions, the book is really about selling arguments, whatever they may be or represent. Irrespective of the philosophical principles described, the book is essentially focused on behavioural concepts. Given the intended audience, this is probably appropriate. However, from a managerial perspective, little is offered. The fundamental questions of how one finds an important issue or present of future managerial concern, identifies an opportunity to make the issue relevant and worthy of exploration, develops alternative approaches to managing that issue, and finally selects and describes an appropriate course of action are nowhere addressed. These are mystically assumed. Readers interested in developing these skills need to go elsewhere.

Another issue, mostly overlooked, which in the end is probably more important than rhetorical style, is the development of improved skills in active listening. Unfortunately, many of the people one must listen to or read have not developed sophisticated and slick styles. The author might have considered offering at least a chapter addressing how one might get the most out of a badly prepared or delivered presentation. Additionally useful, too, might have been some discussion of how to cut through the clutter of presentations that are all style and no substance. We have more than enough of appeals to the “right” brain in all aspects of modern political and economic society.

The book is useful, though, in getting one to think about how to structure, prepare, and deliver an argument more effectively. Thus, readers who thoughtfully reflect on themselves and their communication effectiveness, will find enough substance here to help them define skill‐development needs and may offer some useful suggestions for skill building.

However, one has to wonder whether or not lists of suggestions, including, “Avoid folding your arms and crossing your hands behind your back or in front of your crotch,” are truly words to live by.

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