So, one of the things I am noticing in my journey of leadership in digital and face to face spaces is how conversationally my skills are much different than when I engage online.
It’s the difference between oral communication and written communication.
I see skilled leaders who try to engage online in social media spaces, and a skill they struggle with is how to write text and post in a manner that is more relational. Often times leaders (especially in higher education) tend to be more academic in their writing, which creates walls sometimes to engage relationally. Many of us who engage in social media on a regular basis see this and cringe.
But what if I told you there was something we could glean from an academic writing perspective? Something many of us have picked up through experience, but could actually be taught as we engage in social media?
My wife was an English major in college. One of the most valuable lessons I gleaned from her education (as a math and communications major) was the concept of rhetoric.
For those unfamiliar, here’s a quick synopsis. I am sure others could provide more In depth analysis but this is what I’ve gleaned;
Rhetoric is defined as “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.”
(As an aside, some great definitions related to rhetoric can be found here)
Given much of social media tends to center around the persuasion of others, you would think folx would focus more on rhetoric. You would think rhetoric would be something we should collectively study as an Internet society. Unfortunately we stumble along, ineffective in our goals.
What I have discovered around rhetoric in social media spaces comes down to various tactics people subconsciously employ in trying to persuade others. There are three basic styles of rhetoric to consider when starting down the path of the study of writing (there are in fact many more, but to start, let’s focus on the main three):
Logos - the use of logic to convince people
Pathos - the use of emotion to convince people
Ethos - the use of ethics to convince people
(For more detailed info, you can click here)
Now. Stop for a minute. Consider that last "argument" you had on Facebook or twitter. Were you thinking to yourself “but their point is not logical?” It might be because they were using a pathos argument. Likewise were you thinking "why don't they understand the hurt and emotional labor they are causing?" It's likely because the other person doesn't want to let go of logos (we can speculate why in another thread).
In addition, what I have observed is that different cultures value different rhetorical styles in different situations. One of the biggest gaps I see in leadership is when leaders don’t recognize when they are in conflict and are trying to get the other person to see something using logic, and feel like the other person is emotionally reacting. Likewise, I see impassioned pleas for compassion for others and instead are met with cold hard logic. We also need to ask ourselves, "Which rhetorical styles hold power?" If you work for a boss who uses logos more than pathos, you need to adapt. It isn't binary though. I look at it more like handwriting. The truth is we CAN write with both hands, but one feels more natural, and we tend to feel more competent there. A leader is at their best when they can navigate logos, pathos, and know when to engage in each. Right back to three dimensional leadership.
I think we can become better leaders by focusing in on the rhetoric when discussing challenging topics. When someone approaches you from a pathos place, your logos isn’t going to help, it will likely make matters worse relationally. Think of it like this. When someone comes to you and says "your behavior hurt me" responding with logos "your emotional reaction isn't logical" isn't going to deepen the bridge of relationship between both of you.
In higher education, we tend to value logos as a rhetorical foundation as opposed to pathos. We tend to be very dismissive of pathos, unless it is being used from a place of power.
I will also share that I observe some potential gender differences in these rhetorical devices. The most adept leaders are able to navigate rhetoric to a point in which they can wield it and be proactive with their rhetoric, as opposed to being reactionary.
In addition, finding the places in our own lives and topics that might illicit one rhetorical style over another helps us navigate our effectiveness in communication.
One style I haven’t discussed much is ethos. Mostly because it relates to expertise. In the higher education realm, rarely do I encounter challenges to expertise. It happens, no doubt, but I just observe the conflict between pathos and logos to be more salient.
So as you consider social media engagement, we can learn something from the academics among us. Start thinking about your rhetorical styles and those you struggle to communicate with. This may unlock something you may not be aware of.
What are your thoughts?