Sharing Stories to Be Persuasive

Last week I had the privilege to attend the American Bankers Association summer leadership meeting in Baltimore. One of the speakers was Colonel Arthur J. Athens, USMC (retired), director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership in Annapolis, Maryland. Col. Athens reminded us of the lessons of the great Greek philosopher Aristotle, who determined that persuasion is based on three components: ethos, logos and pathos. Ethos is the ethical appeal, or credibility, of the argument. In today’s environment, reputation would have a great deal to do with whether the argument can be believed. Next, logos is the logical deduction, or reasoning, of the argument. Logos is bolstered with statistics, data and documentation. Finally, pathos is the emotional means of persuasion. Modern-day advertising, with its heavy emotional appeal, is based on pathos.

Combining these various types of persuasion to make a point is best done through the telling of a story. By rights, bankers should be quite persuasive. Bankers have ethos, because within communities, bankers as individuals are held up as people of character and credibility, even if the industry as a whole is not held in high esteem. Additionally bankers have logos. They have innately logical demeanors ‒ after all, the books have to balance ‒ so bankers score “through the roof” on logos and can provide clear, logical arguments. The persuasive area where bankers may fall short is the emotional side of reasoning: pathos. This is where storytelling can be especially important in connecting emotionally with clients and associates.

An example of how these three elements of argumentation may play out for bankers is when trying to persuade a congressman to support a certain piece of legislation. First, ethos or credibility should already be in place, because the congressman should already know who the banker is ‒ underscoring the value of grassroots advocacy. Second, the banker likely has the logos, or logical, part of the argument covered and can back up assertions with numerical proof. However it is in the third area, pathos, where the banking industry needs to step up. Do banking professionals consistently connect with congressmen regarding how industry issues affect their voter constituencies? Do bankers connect as well and as often as the credit union leaders, or consumer activists, or retailers?

How can the banking community do a better job of being persuasive? Though there are many answers, one way is to become better at storytelling. When you are talking to your congressmen about how bad the regulatory environment has become, tell specifically about your client who no longer qualifies for a mortgage at your bank, and the negative effect on that client. To get a loan, did your client have go to a loan broker or a payday lender … and consequently have to pay a much higher rate of interest?

Or can you tell a story about a customer who appreciated your bank’s overdraft protection program so much that the customer wrote you a thank you note? Your team regularly hears from customers who appreciate the service your bank supplies, and those are stories worth sharing. If the banking community is going to win some of the larger battles looming in Washington, D.C., we have to get better at telling our story. It is the story of customers and communities. It is ever unfolding and changes with the times. Col. Athens says that he practices telling his stories in front of a mirror, or tries them out on family or friends. We must become that dedicated to telling our stories of banking.

– S. Joe DeHaven

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