Pathos is the Greek word for sympathy. Or according to Merriam-Webster: “a quality that causes people to feel sympathy and sadness”. I use this word a lot as I coach people to be more effective speakers, presenters, and influencers. But I think it is much more than generating sympathy.

Aristotle suggested that Pathos (along with Ethos and Logos) is paramount for a speaker’s success – especially in the art of persuasion. He believed that Pathos really is the ability to get the audience to “feel” for the speaker or persuader. Of course, this should be ethical, never manipulative. Otherwise it’s not authentic, and thus it’s short-term. And if it were not authentic, it would hurt the speaker’s credibility (Ethos!).

Pathos has cousins in the English language, and empathy is one of them. And we all know that empathy is different from sympathy. Empathy is the ability to relate, to understand, to attempt to feel the emotions and feelings of another.

Daniel Goleman suggests empathy is key in his emotional intelligence model. Stephen Covey reminds us of its importance with his 7 Habits – one being “Seek first to understand and then to be understood”.

I really like the word “Pathos”, and it’s connection to empathy. And I further believe it is even more. In order to have empathy, I think we need to invoke emotion - even perhaps invoke passion. This passion should be appropriate to the moment, to the topic, and to the audience. And we can create passion by demonstrating interest and energy. This in turn, engages our audience – whether the audience is one person or many.

Thus, Pathos is really important – in relationships, in business, in communication.

Tips on building your Pathos:

  • Listen

  • Be present

  • Be mindful

  • Be authentic

  • Be enthusiastic

  • Be empathetic

  • Be ethical

And – if you are trying to figure out what your “Brand” is or your “Style” or your “Story”, Pathos is a great way to start.

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