What Plato can teach us about communicating

The Greeks have given us many a good thing over the last few millennia: the Olympics, theatre and Hercules to name a few. Long before modern day linkages to economic meltdowns and ‘hard-to-beat’ football teams, the ancients also taught us a thing or two about communication.

Roughly 2500 years ago philosophers mused over the concept of ‘Rhetoric’ – the in thing for communicators in the times before Christ. Leading the generation of the idea was the bearded genius Plato and his disciple Aristotle who developed the idea of applying persuasive means to make an argument more compelling.

Plato: Philosopher and communicator

Plato: Philosopher and communicator

At the time this was used by the orators of the day in public speaking and debate with the fundamental aim of helping to shape conversations. This is an important point: Rhetoric is synonymous with discourse between parties – it is a tool that can be applied to help develop understanding.

And so our linkage to modern day communications is apparent. Plato suggested a number of elements that should be considered in the development of rhetoric:

Ethos: this concerns the credibility the speaker. Increasing trust in our leaders is a great way to encourage belief in our messages. Aristotle suggested that intelligence, character and goodwill constituted this credibility. How are your leaders/communicators perceived?

Logos: this considers the message itself and the ‘logic’ which underpins it. If the message ‘doesn’t add up’ it is likely that the idea will be rejected or ignored. Being objective and backing up your arguments with facts or statistics is a good way of increasing your message’s Logos.

Pathos: is the linked to the emotional response in your audience. Creating an emotional connection with your colleagues either through the context of your message or the performance/delivery can make it more meaningful. Have a think about how you currently communicate. Are you making an emotional linkage?

Kairos: “a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved” – Kairos is all about timing. Finding the right moment to deliver message can amplify its resonance greatly. Ensuring your stories aren’t outdated or clashing with competing messages is good health check.


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