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Using the rhetorical triangle for effective communication

Effective communication is an art that requires the perfect combination of skill, strategy, empathy and listening skills. Rhetoric is crucial to influence opinions, persuade the public and build consent. It uses persuasion techniques, symbolism and figures of speech. In order to communicate effectively and influence and convince public opinion, there are 3 ways to proceed. Aristotle identified ethos, logos and pathos as the keys to analyse communication and rhetoric. 

The three pillars of effective communication

Like a temple, communication also rests on pillars, three to be exact. The first, ethics, refers to the credibility and trust the speaker tries to convey to the public. By quoting reliable sources, showcasing experience in the field and consistent values, the speaker can grow their ethos.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”

Martin Luther King 

The quote clearly conveys King’s credibility and character, as one of the leaders of the civil rights movements and a champion of non violence and social justice. His ability to remain unwavering in his beliefs throughout his most challenging times, had strengthened his moral authority and influence as a leader. 

The second pillar is logic, based on the rationality of the argument. Consistency is crucial to persuade the public, through this strategy, the speaker focuses primarily on presenting the facts, statistics and reasoning to convince audiences of their personal position. 

Webster, Worcester and Bouvier all define a citizen to be a person in the United States, entitled to vote and hold office. The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons?”  

Susan B. Anthony

The speaker, in this case, is referencing several important dictionaries’ definitions of “citizen”, in order to prove that women should be considered such. Consequently, they should therefore have the rights associated with citizenship, including the right to vote and hold public office. It’s an argument that relies on logical consistency and the authority of the sources in order to convince the public of the validity of their request.

Finally, one can appeal to pathos to persuade through emotions, evoking in the audience various feelings, thus influencing convictions and beliefs. 

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy, is speaking of the patriotic spirit within everybody, he is pushing people to ask themselves how they could contribute in building a better world for their children. The wording is very deliberate, by asking citizens and not telling he is giving them agency making them feel emotionally invested in political action. 

The effective communication is that which convinces

Capturing the listener’s attention is increasingly complicated, but the ability to use metaphors in a creative and strategic way can make a difference. In the world of politics, rhetorical figures, especially metaphors, are a powerful weapon of persuasion, a linguistic tool that transforms complex concepts into understandable mental images. 

The use of a familiar image or situation facilitates the effective transmission of a message. «These are bridges in communication that combine creative language and the experience of the audience – explains Vittoria Savino, copywriter at Scoprinetwork Srl -. Metaphors enrich our understanding of the world by transferring meanings from one context to another. What is relevant is the fact that people know how to filter information which reaches us in mass every day, as to develop critical and not superficial thinking».

Unlike similarities or analogies, which seek to establish relationships between objects or similar concepts, metaphors go further. Instead, they allow the reader to mentally visualise otherwise abstract concepts, operating on the basis of an implicit similarity. Additionally, They create a direct connection between the original and the evoked meaning, inviting the reader to discover the deepest and subtlest meanings.

Manipulating thoughts with words

According to cognitive linguist George Lakoff, politicians can manipulate people’s thinking through the strategic use of language. Thanks to frames, which are cognitive frameworks, those in power can influence the perception that the audience has on issues of public interest, whether they are taxes, security or justice. 

The human mind is susceptible to suggestion and can be influenced by negative instructions. “Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate”, published by Chelsea Green Pub Co., is a book by Lakoff that refers to a thought experiment. If we are told not to think about an elephant, the first thing we do is just the opposite: we think about it. This is because, when asked to not think of something, our mind instinctively does the opposite. 

«When it comes to speeches, the words chosen are deliberate. Moreover, what we say always comes down to the interlocutor and the context in which they’re speaking. As a social and biological phenomenon, language is never objective, but is always tied to the ideology that inevitably leads us to choose certain words and expressions and omit others» comments Savino.

Successful persuasive communication requires the ability to adapt the message to the specific needs of the audience, anticipate objections and communicate clearly. These skills not only facilitate understanding, they create more meaningful connections to achieve persuasive goals more effectively.

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