Ethos, Part Three: Good Moral Character


This is the third post in the series about the appeal to ethos, which is the appeal which is often reduced to an over-simplification of “an appeal to credibility.” We all want to convey strong ethos in our business communication, but this simplistic definition of ethos may limit our thinking and reduce our ability to convey it in dynamic ways.
The first two pillars of ethos that we already captured were “good will toward your audience” and “good sense.” Now, we’ll consider the last piece Aristotle mentions, which is “good moral character.” This ties most closely to the word that sounds a lot like "ethos" – it means showing you are ethical. Other words associated with this component of ethos may be words like integrityvirtuous, and someone who lives by a strong set of values and morals.  

It is important to consider how you could convey a good moral character to your audience because then the audience views you, and the message you are conveying, in a certain light. They may feel they can trust you, that you have a conscience, and thus that your message (whatever you are asking your audience to do or think about) is coming from the mind and heart of someone they view as just and moral. Reflect on a time that a person you view as immoral or untrustworthy has asked you to do something, and recall the tone and intention you read behind their request, and you can see the negative impact of overlooking this important appeal to ethos.
To consider how you could appeal to ethos in this way, when you write any kind of persuasive message to your work communication, whether it is to convince your readers to attend a training or change a procedure or buy a product or meet a deadline, you can consider how you appeal to ethos in this way.

Ask yourselves these questions as you prepare to write to your coworkers, employees, or clients:

  • Do I communicate integrity (about myself and my reasons for whatever I am arguing for) by justly and honestly  acknowledging strengths, weaknesses, and flaws?

  • Do I communicate a set of values that are vital to our workplace ethics by showing in my writing that I am truthful, fair, authentic, and have good morals?

  • How do I show my audience that I can be trusted?

  • How do I show my audience that I have authority on this subject?

  • Do I show a dislike/abhorrence for unprincipled tactics?

  • Do I avoid making any statements or word choices that could suggest to my readers that I may do something unethical or support something that they would view as immoral?