In studying the three modes of persuasion, ethos or credibility, pathos or emotion, and logos or logic and evidence, we learn that strong persuasion is about creating a balance between these three essentials to effective rhetoric, the art of persuading others.
While the dominant mode may change depending on the speaking context, and while many disagree on which mode of persuasion is truly the most important, it cannot be denied that an imbalance between these three can negatively affect your audience’s reception of your message. Too much pathos and the audience may feel manipulated, too much logos and the audience is disconnected from the humanity of the topic. What happens when we don’t tend to ethos or credibility though?
According to the article “8 Conversational Habits that Kill Credibility” by Geoffrey James, credibility often comes down not to dress or decorum but language (also definitely the realm of logos and pathos). What we say can either show we are credible, trustworthy, and have the audience’s best interest in mind, or leave our audience feeling we are biased, pompous, or untrustworthy. So, what are the 8 habits you need to avoid to build strong credibility?
1. Avoid Shop Talk
Jargon may make you feel better and you’ll assume your audience sees you as a knowledgable fount of information and wisdom, your audience is over business speak. A colleague recently expressed his disgust at the word “followship” used as a replacement for “leadership”. Why do we need to redefine leadership as anything but what it is?
2. Avoid Overused “Truisms”
The cliche “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” was awesome…100 years ago. Now, it’s an instant sign to your audience that they should stop listening to you because you are out of touch at best or lazy at worst.
3. Avoid Fancy Language
Verbose diatribes infrequently engage participatory assemblages… in other words, the bigger the words you use, the less likely that your audience will listen to or retain your message. Keep it simple!
4. Avoid Verbal Fillers
Non-fluencies like “um” or “uh” can be difficult to filter out, particularly because they are part of our conversational structure, so from my perspective a random uh or um won’t necessarily kill your credibility. However, when they become so frequent that they are noticeable or when those fillers include words such as “like” or “basically”, they communicate to your audience that you are not confident in your message or ideas.
5. Avoid Statements as Questions
James calls these “upticks”. When one raises the pitch at the end of what should be a statement and phrases it instead as a question. This one is a subtle credibility killer. The raising of your voice can communicate a lack of confidence in your ideas and message. Much of our credibility comes from an ability to phrase ideas assertively and with confidence.
6. Avoid Doublespeak
The term doublespeak was first introduced in George Orwell’s 1984. Doublespeak is language that deliberately seeks to distort and confuse meaning. The purpose is to often make difficult truths more palatable (aka, lying by omission). James refers to these as weasel words–no one trusts a weasel. One of the biggest challenges of strong persuasion is presenting ideas as they are, no matter how ugly or difficult.
7. Avoid Blaming your Audience
Placing blame on the audience by way of a “fake apology” (I’m sorry you didn’t get the point) is disingenuous . It also shows a lack of empathy for your audience, a definite necessity of a credible speaker.
8. Avoid Useless Information
Often times, when we don’t know what we are talking about, we rely on information overload–a barrage of mostly useless (to the audience) information that works to actually increase anxiety in most speakers. Focus on audience relevance and audience centeredness to ensure your information is useful.