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The Language of the Leader (Rhetorical Communication)

The Language of the leader (Rhetorical communication)

The Language of the Leader (Rhetorical Communication)

Communication skills can be split into two broad categories:

  1. Logic
  2. Rhetoric

Logic is the art of trying to convince someone of the truth by means of appealing to:

  1. The facts
  2. The information
  3. The deductions drawn from the facts
  4. Reasoning

Rhetoric is the art of trying to convince another truth by means other than that above, using methods appeal the emotions, suchas:

  1. Desire
  2. Faith
  3. Social pressure
  4. Pride
  5. Patriotism

This is the language of rhetoric. Rhetorical language is:

  • Emotionally charged
  • Artfully vague
  • Not logical

Please note that Rhetorical language should be used only to support a reasoned approach, not to replace it.

What is the purpose of Rhetorical language pattern?

It is based on this premise: "Every word you say has an impact on the mind of the listener."

The mind has many levels of awareness. Conscious awareness is at one extreme and subconscious awareness is at the other. With many shades in between.

Sometimes, you are in conversation with someone and you know they are persuasive, but you may not be sure why.

It is because the other person is appealing to you, not just on the logical level, but also on the emotional level.

Why are these methods important?

You should know this material because you may need to persuade, motivate and negotiate with people. And you will need to use words to express yourself.

Every word you say has an impact on the mind of the listener.

There are different ways of presenting your ideas.
You may have noticed that if you try to simply tell people what you think they must do, they tend to fight you. Even if you both know that you are right; they still fight you.

Why do people resist your logic?

Because you are trying to overwhelm with the force of your argument.
But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction!
You hope that people will do the logically right thing. But people often act emotionally not logically.
So it makes sense to deliver ideas in a way that appeals to the emotions, as well as to logic.

Rhetorical Suggestion is the method of by-passing the logical, critical mind and appealing to the emotional mind.
Again please note: It is not a good idea to rely solely on Rhetorical suggestion

Rhetorical language should be used only to support a reasoned approach, not to replace it.
The best approach is to have a good mix of rational, well-constructed argument supported by a powerfully charged delivery.

How do advertisers, Politicians and some leaders use rhetoric to influence their listeners?

They do so using the following:

1. Direct suggestion

Direct suggestion is the simplest form of suggestion. It means telling the person that they will feel or act in a particular way.

This can be powerful. For example:

  • "Taste this, you'll love it!"
  • "Have a go, you will find it easy"
  • "You are feeling strong, so this weight will feel light"
  • "You are clever so you'll figure this out"
  • "Think of how good you'll feel when you win"
  • "This film will scare you"

We all use this type of suggestion already, but we don't think about it. And by not thinking about it we sometimes do it wrong and make negative suggestions.

Examples of accidental negative suggestions:

  1. "You are bound to be nervous the first time you take your driving test. Almost everyone fails the first time"
  2. "You stupid child! Put that back!"
  3. "You idiot. You spelled 'professional' wrong"

Be sure that you suggest the emotion that you want to elicit.

You want to elicit the emotion that would be most useful (not the most common) in the circumstance that the listener finds themselves in.

Your suggestions raise an expectation in the mind of the listener and therefore will increase the chances that the person will respond in the way you propose.

The best thing about Direct suggestion is that it is the easiest form of suggestion.

The worst thing about Direct suggestion is that it is rather obvious and so more likely to be rejected.

You say "You'll love this!"
He says "No, I won't!"

2. Indirect suggestion

One way to make your suggestion more subtle is to make it indirect.
The easiest way to deliver an indirect suggestion is to use negation. Negation can be an "embedded command".

Embedded command is a form of suggestion that induces the person to think of an idea and so implants the idea in the mind which is then acted on.

Negation statements put in mind the very idea that you want the other person to put out of mind. And since action follows thought, the person may be more likely to do the thing you are asking them not to do.

Don't look in the box" will cause the person to consider looking in the box.

Indirect suggestion is more difficult to detect and so it is often very effective.

Sometimes people accidently use negation-suggestion to suggest things that they don't want.

I heard a school teacher say this to her students: "Children, when you go into the museum, NO running, shouting or screaming"

The third method of suggestion is questions.

3. Questions

A powerful way to introduce a suggestion is to ask a question.

Ask a question that either:

  1. Presupposes the idea , or
  2. Creates a binary choice

Questions are an excellent method of suggestion because you are not telling the person what to think, but you are implanting the idea.

Some examples are:

  • Do you think this could be exciting? (Suggests excitement)
  • How strong would you have to be to lift this? (Suggests strength)
  • How could you just do it? (Is a hidden suggestion to act)
  • Do you want to go outside and do something interesting or do you want to sit inside and stagnate?
  • What would be the long-term painful consequences if you sat on your hands and did nothing? (Suggests doing nothing is not a good idea).

Can you see that asking questions is a way to suggest actions?

Have you ever seen teachers use questions to implant information into the minds of students? Did you know that it was the ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, who invented the method of teaching by asking questions?

Other ancient teachers preferred to use stories or parables or fables to deliver a message.

Stories is the fourth method of suggestion.

4. Stories

If you want to avoid conscious critical scrutiny and deliver your message to the unconscious mind, you could wrap up your ideas in a story.

Think of the Bible, one of the most influential books. The Bible is full of messages delivered in the form of stories or "parables"?

One of the Bibles' characteristics is the use of stories to deliver messages. Rather than writing high level philosophy books the writers of the bible told the stories of Jesus.

They relied mostly on indirect methods of communication; especially stories. Why? Stories are more interesting and memorable than a full philosophic treatise on metaphysics, epistemology and ethics.

Likewise parents tell their children stories which are intended to deliver a moral message: The boy who cried wolf; Goldilocks and the three bears.

The best way is to tell true stories that relate in obvious ways to the current situation, and make sure the outcome of the story suggests the message you want to deliver.

For example, imagine you are with a man who seems to wants to buy your product but he is wavering. A story could help:

"I can appreciate that you may want to think this over for a day or two. My best friend Steve always used to take his time when thinking of doing something like this, even if he could see it obviously was good idea. But often, by the time he finally made his decision, the moment of opportunity was gone. Sometimes it is better to make a firm decision and just go with it".

This short story has the following suggestions:

  • The idea to buy now is good
  • Waiting is bad
  • It is better to just go with a firm yes decision

5. Metaphor

Closely allied to stories is metaphor.

This is using language to link your idea to something that, in reality, is not connected.
The link is made purely to create emotional impact.

Metaphor can add spice to your language and make it more impactful.

For example, imagine this situation:

You go to a meeting with information given to you by John. In the meeting you discover John's information is inaccurate. Because of John's misinformation, you have to do a U-turn.

Later you are describing the situation to a friend. You could describe that situation as follows:

  • "What John told me was incorrect."
  • Or you could say "John sent me down the wrong track and I had to do an about-turn."
  • Or you could say "John really stabbed me in the back!"
  • Or you could say "John really dropped me in the meat grinder!"

The use of words changes the emotional impact. If you want to convey the idea that your product is selling well you can say:

"My product is selling well" Or you could say "They are selling like hot cakes"

Talking in metaphoric language creates vivid mental images in the mind of the listener that can be attractive and influential.

6. Repetition

Because it is easy and it always works, the last method of suggestion; repetition, is the advertiser's favourite.

Over an extended period of time, repetition of a message will eventually have an effect on the mind of the listener. And the effects can be long lasting.

For example, how many times were you told as a child "Don't talk to strangers!"? The suggestion is "strangers are dangerous".

It makes sense to teach a child that message. But then, the child grows up and becomes an adult, he may still carry this idea deep in his mind.

When he is invited to a party, but will not know anyone there. He would like to go but feels troubled. He says "I can't go. I won't know anyone".

A simple message repeated often will have an impact.

Advertisers use repetition. Their messages have a measurable impact on the nations buying decisions.

Napoleon Bonaparte once remarked: "The strongest argument is repetition", and "Keep saying it, until it becomes true"

Remember: Every word that you say has an impact.

Further reading: The Rhetorical Triangle

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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Further Reading in Leadership and Management

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