May 022012

share the credit

We, Not Me, Will Take You A Lot Further.  Share The Credit.

In the realm of entrepreneurship, as in most endeavors that require a team effort to undertake successfully, a focus on “we,” not “me” will take you much further.  Share the credit.  Share the limelight.

Recently I was reminded of an entrepreneur with whom I used to work, who found it very difficult to use the words “we” and “us” and “our”.  His preferred vocabulary included “I,” “me,” and “my”.  I suppose that would have been OK, but for the fact that he needed the input, cooperation and collective effort of at least ten team members to successfully complete a project (a Merger/Acquisition transaction in this case).  This created a couple of key problems.

First, given that the M&A transactions were quite complex and often involved tens of millions of dollars, many of the team members wanted to be recognized for their contributions and sacrifices (20-hour days at crunch time on a deal) in getting a deal done.  The more the entrepreneur threw around the word “I” and effectively took credit for all that went well, the more certain team members became frustrated and demoralized.  Since deals often lasted several months, even a year or more, as morale slid, mistakes and undermining behavior became more frequent and jeopardized the successful completion of many deals.

Second, and perhaps more important, the more the entrepreneur threw around the word “I,” the smaller he made his company seem in the eyes of current and prospective clients.  It made it sound like the company was just him and his efforts, rather than the collective effort of a well-managed team with an effective leader.  Since the company was often competing against bigger, better-known rivals to win deals, this had the potential to become a major issue in sales and marketing efforts.

In short, this entrepreneur’s desire to take credit for everything and receive personal recognition, rather than allowing his team to feel like an integral and important part of the company’s success, threatened to undermine the organization’s talent base, deal performance, and credibility in the marketplace.

I spent about eighteen months attempting to convince the entrepreneur that it would make sense to give credit to the team, rather than trying to continuously keep himself individually in the spotlight.  When he’d send me documents to review that were loaded with “I,” I’d send him back a message along the lines of “change I to we and my to our”.  When I’d hear him being self-congratulatory in meetings and sales calls, afterwards I’d gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) remind him that he needed to change his vocabulary and use the word “we” more.  I’d emphasize to him that the only way for the company to grow was to build a strong, capable, motivated team.  I’d tell him to share the credit and that there was no way to do it all individually, nor was there much rationale for pretending that was how it was happening.

I’d like to tell you that the story has a happy ending, but in fact, it did not end well.  The entrepreneur had a hard time taking advice and continued to focus on himself and tout how great he was, rather than building up the people and the organization around him.  He had an inability to understand how others perceived his words and actions, and a lack of desire to make much progress on improving in this area.  His case was a bit extreme, almost to the point of being in sociopath territory.

Eventually, this entrepreneur ended up alienating everyone around him who could help him, including clients, prospects, employees, business associates, family members, and finally, me.  I may have been the most “long-suffering” of the lot, as I looked at helping him improve as a personal challenge, but at the end of the day, he was not capable of changing and ended up with his business and the rest of his life in shambles.  It’s been several years and he has not yet bounced back from this experience.  Meanwhile, the team that was around him at that time has bounced back nicely.  They did not suffer from the same “I-centered” personality flaw.

This is a cautionary tale.  If you think you have some of the tendencies highlighted in this article, be careful.  Be honest with yourself.  Seek counsel from credible sources.  Be willing to change, before you suffer a similar fate to that of the entrepreneur in this article.  Share the credit for all that goes well in your business.

I look forward to your thoughts.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

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Apr 082011

Who would have thought that the Greek philospher Aristotle could help you be a better business person? Well, if you want to be more persuasive, and by extension better at sales, marketing and negotiating, it’s worth thinking a bit about three categories that Aristotle used to describe means of persuasion. Those categories are Ethos, Pathos and Logos.

Ethos refers to the character or credibility of the speaker – or writer – the person trying to get their message or argument across. The listener or reader is going to have an impression of the level of credibility of the person trying to persuade them. This impression will be based on past interactions, reputation, and the manner of communication, among other factors.

Pathos relates to emotion. It is an attempt to persuade by appealing to the emotions of the person(s) you are trying to persuade. This appeal can be based on analogies, metaphors or stories that evoke the emotions of your reader or listener. It is well known that humans are accustomed to learning and passing on knowledge and wisdom through stories, so being able to weave a good story that touches someone emotionally is an excellent way to win them over.

Logos refers to logic. In this case, you are trying to persuade someone by using a well-reasoned, logical argument. You are persuading based on the belief that your audience will respond to an appeal that is structured in a logical, left-brain manner. Using this form of persuasion is seductive, as it gives you the (usuallly false) sense of comfort that if you can just make your argument tight enough, then your audience will have to be persuaded. Unfortunately, it’s not usually that simple.

As you’ve undoubtedly realized by now, these three categories usually do not work independently. In other words, it’s unlikely that by just using one of these forms of persuasion you are likely to persuade your audience, or at least not as consistently or to the extent you would like to. Why is that? Let’s consider an example to understand why these three almost always work together.

Let’s consider the example of someone that comes to you on the street, trying to persuade you to give them a few dollars because their car has run out of gas. For all of us who have lived in a big city at some point in our lives, this has likely happened at least once or twice. So what happens in this scenario? Well first, presumably you do not now this person at all, so they start out with very little credibility (Ethos). Strike one. Next, they have a very short time to get your attention and to use much logic (Logos). Strike two. Finally, they may stir up a bit of emotion in you, as you may have run out of gas at some point and had to look for help. Or you may just feel bad for them for being in an unfortunate circumstance.

So would you give this person money? What are some of the factors that may affect the degree to which they can persuade you? To begin with, if they’re dressed like you or dressed very well, you’re likely to give them a bit more credit (Ethos). Next, if they tell you a story that is more likely to relate to an experience you’ve had, or to your current situation, they may have more credibility and may at the same time touch you a bit more emotionally (Ethos, Pathos). Finally, if they tell you up front “this may sound a bit crazy,” you’re not likely to expect much logic or reasoning (Logos), so you’ll likely hold them to a lower standard on this category and the short time they have to give you a logical story won’t necessarily count against them as much.

What are some of the things that could work against them? How about if they’re dressed very shabbily, perhaps to the extent that you may even doubt that they have a car at all? How about if you’ve heard this story many, many times before, at least one or two of which were found to be complete fabrications? And what if in the short time they have to give you any semblance of logic for their plea, they give you a story that makes no sense to you at all, either based on the vocabulary the’re using or the numerous faults in their reasoning? All of these could cause you to say “no” (at least in your head) before they even start talking.

In this example, we’re talking about someone who walks up to you on the street looking for money. What does that have to do with business? With sales and marketing? With negotiation? Well how different is this scenario in reality than the many times people try to persuade you each day, whether it be in-person, by telephone, television, radio, or internet? In all of those cases, just as with the person who approached you on the street, each of the persons or organizations trying to persuade you is going to have varying levels of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in your mind. An unknown person or organization that comes to you, regardless of how they come to you, is likely to have very little credibility (Ethos) in your mind at the beginning. True, they may be able to make an emotional appeal (Pathos) and you may be moved, even though you don’t know them well. They may also be able to put together a solid, logical argument that you see as having merit (Logos). But even so, are you likely to buy from them, or be persuaded by them?

What can you do to increase the likelihood that when you are making appeals to individuals, they are going to be persuaded by you? The answer is in the combination of Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Any one of these approaches used in isolation is not nearly as powerful as when it is used in combination with the others. What you need to do is use Ethos, Pathos and Logos either all at once, or better yet, in a sequence that makes sense.

What is the right sequence in which to use Ethos, Pathos and Logos when you are trying to persuade others? There are many approaches that can work. One that is tried and true is to first use Ethos, then Pathos, then Logos. The idea goes like this: first you must be a credible source before the audience will even open their ears and begin to listen to your emotional and logical appeals. You can build your presentations, marketing and sales pitches in such a way that they follow this sequence. You may also get away with, and in some situations even be better off with, first appealing to their emotions, then letting them know that the appeal is coming from a credible source, and then finally giving them your logic for why they should take a particular action. One thing that is clear though, is that if you try to give them logic before you’ve even touched on emotion or credibility, you’re not likely to get too far in persuading them.

There are myriad ways that you can work toward establishing Ethos, evoking Pathos, and delivering sound Logos, but regardless of how you decide to approach it, hopefully this article has given you a solid grounding in the concept Aristotle put forth over 2,000 years ago. Hopefully too, you will not try to use just one of these categories of persuasion, but rather use them together to maximize your persuasive potential.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on the concept of Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Please leave a comment below or by clicking on the top right corner of this post.

Paul Morin
Twitter: @PaulAlanMorin