Tag Archives: Aristotle

Back to Soft Skills

Krys Boyd, of Think on KERA in Dallas, interviewed Brent Iverson of UT Austin and John Sibert of UT Dallas on her program today. They are respected teachers at the University level, and are each contributors to the book The Little Orange Book: Short Lessons in Excellent Teaching (University of Texas Press). You can listen to the full interview here. Their expertise is in the sciences, but, notice this portion of the interview:  A caller called in to tell a story of a teacher from his college days — a teacher who failed in the human interaction department with his students. The two guests responded partly with these words:

How are my students perceiving me?
This applies to people… Not (just) professors, but people. How you interact with others, especially if you have some content models, impact their view of that content…

This goes back to a very basic concept of rhetorical effectiveness from Aristotle — the power of ethos. Ethos: the ethical appeal, the credibility of the speaker/messenger. And, at the heart of ethos is the notion that the teacher/speaker has the goodwill of the audience at heart.

This is from one of my earlier blog posts: Does Your Audience Find You Trustworthy? — 4 Components Of Ethos. From that blog post:

In one of the textbooks I use in my teaching, Public Speaking (8th Edition) by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn, and Randall Osborn, they describe four components of ethos.  These are terrific.  Here they are, from the book, with my own take sprinkled in:

  • integrity – be trustworthy (ethical; honest; dependable)

  • competence – develop genuine expertise; know your subject well (informed; intelligent; well-prepared)

  • dynamism – raise the energy in the room whenever you speak (confident; decisive; enthusiastic)

  • goodwill – have the best interests of your audience at heart.  Always mean them well, never mean them harm.

Or…  to put it all in simple terms:

  • you can trust me
  • because I have prepared well
  • and, I believe this deeply enough to get excited about it – and I work hard to stay current
  • and I share this with you to help you succeed in your own pursuits.

Enter every speaking assignment with these components of ethos at the front of your mind, and you will become known as trustworthy – a person of good character, speaking well.

Goodwill; effective interactions. It always comes back to the soft skills, doesn’t it?

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Who Do You Learn From?

SomThe Road to Charactere people seem to think that they don’t need to learn from anyone. They will pound out their own direction, chart their own course. They can do it on their own – they think…

But, for most of us, we need to learn from others. And even if we chart a portion of our own course, we rely on those who went before.

Last Sunday, Fareed Zakaria had part two of his interview with David Brooks, prompted by Mr. Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character. Here’s a critical and enlightening portion of that interview (from the transcript). I’ve bolded a key portion:

You grow up in an ecology and you inherit a certain tradition, a certain gift from the dead of how to be good. And so, there are a whole bunch of things you can believe in. There’s a Greek tradition, a classical one, which emphasizes honor and courage and glory. There’s a Jewish one, that emphasizes obedience to law. There’s a Christian one on salvation and grace. There’s a scientific one, rational thought and thinking your way to a good life.

So there are all these different traditions. They have all been handed down to us, and I’m not going to tell a young person which one to believe, but pick one. Because we tell them you’ll come up with your own world view. Well, if your name is Aristotle, Aristotlemaybe – with your own real view. The rest of us, we have to learn from somebody else. So, the dead have given us this great gift and I just lay them out for the students and for the readers of the book and I say pick one. It will help you out to inherit a tradition, a full integration that greater minds than your own who know you better than you know yourself have left for us as presents.

I’ve jed-catmull-steve-jobsust finished reading Becoming Steve Jobs. And, just last week, I completed reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, head of Pixar. I came away with this from the two books: though Mr. Catmull never quite claimed credit, it’s pretty clear that Steve Jobs learned much from him – considered him a mentor.

Steve jobs had a reputation that he was pretty much his own course charter. But, he learned from another – he was willing to learn from someone else, and Ed Catmull seemed to be the right fit, at the right time.

So, the question is, today and always, who are you learning from? Unless your name is Aristotle, you probably should develop a teachable spirit, and be on the lookout for your next mentor/teacher/guide.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

When you Lose your Credibility

Rhetoric is… a good man speaking well.

(re. ethos): “Virtue, then, is of two sorts, virtue of thought [e.g., wisdom, comprehension, intelligence] and virtue of character [e.g., generosity, temperance, courage, justice]. Virtue of thought arises and grows mostly from teaching, and hence needs experience and time. Virtue of character [i.e., of ethos] results from habit [ethos]; hence its name ‘ethical’, slightly varied from ‘ethos’. Hence it is also clear that none of the virtues of character arises in us naturally.” 

If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Matthew 6:23

It’s ancient wisdom. If the task is to communicate, then the one communicating needs to be believable. It is pretty much a requirement in the persuasion arena. This “believability” is connected to “ethos,” referring to the “character of the speaker; credibility” Aristotle included it as one of his three primary means of persuasion (along with logos, and pathos).

07helicopter-web-articlelargeThe current Brian Williams saga is a pretty clear example of what happens when a person who is perceived to be credible — (credible = competent, honest, trustworthy) – loses such credibility.

Quite a case can be made that we almost “naturally/automatically” live and speak and act in ways that make people lose their trust in us. To quote the good Doctor House, “Everybody lies.”

I just read a review of a new book The Devil Wins on Slate: You Lie! A tricky new book on the history and philosophy of deceit by Katy Waldman. The article, and apparently the book (I’ve downloaded the sample pages, but haven’t yet read them) make the case that House was right – “everybody lies.” From the book/article:

A study indicates that the average person composes three deceits for every 10 minutes of conversation—“and even more when we use email and text messaging.”

It seems that one of our tasks is to aim to do so less and less.

So, back to Brian Williams. His problem is obvious – journalists are expected to be truthful and trustworthy. It’s part of their “job description.” One task of a good journalist is to find out when others are not being honest. If the journalist is dishonest himself/herself, it is a long slog back to credibility.

Yes, it is possible to regain that credibility – to earn it back. For example, Nina Totenberg was famously fired for plagiarism early in her career. Her later reflection is a classic: “I have a strong feeling that a young reporter is entitled to one mistake and to have the holy bejeezus scared out of her to never do it again.” (Read about this here).

But, thinking of Brian Williams, at this moment we are all our own Diogenes. From the article:

Diogenes the Cynic, lamp in hand under dazzling sunshine, patrolled the agora for evidence of one honest man. He found a bunch of guys who said they fit the bill, which is how he knew they didn’t.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

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