Investigations and the Art of Persuasion

September 9, 2021

By Andrea L. Moseley

Author and instructor at Harvard University, Carmine Gallo, aptly observed that the art of persuasion has not changed in 2,000 years. Understanding these principles and how to apply them is critical in our practice of defending individuals and companies facing government investigations. The ability to persuade, change hearts and minds and to garner credibility with investigators can make the difference in successfully navigating government inquiries.

Persuasion is the act of convincing someone to change their beliefs or do something you suggest. Aristotle (more than 2,000 years ago) outlined a blueprint on how to become a master of persuasion. Rhetoric, according to Aristotle, is the art of seeing the available means of persuasion. This blueprint can be applied to communications with nearly any decision maker, including law enforcement, OIG investigators and government attorneys.

There are five rhetorical devices that Aristotle identified.

Character (also called Ethos). This is when attorneys are able to give investigators insight into their own, and therefore the client’s, credibility. Building a sense of trust can be as simple as being on time and doing what you say you are going to do. Complex credibility building is more likely to occur after multiple, authentic, diplomatic interactions with investigators. By contrast, credibility is unlikely to flow from thoughtless, self involved recitations of degrees, awards and hubristic war stories.

Reason (also called Logos). Logic is appealing to listeners. White Collar defense attorneys must be able to identify and communicate why it is in the government’s interest to accept ideas favorable to the client. For example, will it save the government precious resources if they permit you to narrow the request for documents in their subpoena? We must be able to explain why and how that is true. What steps should the government take next that is consistent with our logic?

Emotion (also called Pathos). According to Aristotle, persuasion cannot occur in the absence of emotion. In his HBR article linked above, Gallo quoted TED Talks curator, Chris Anderson, and reminded us, “The stories that can generate the best connection are stories about you personally or about people close to you. Tales of failure, awkwardness, misfortune, danger or disaster, told authentically, hastens deep engagement.” In other words, personal storytelling can be a primary means to build connection and relate to investigators while trying to further the client’s goals.

Metaphor (a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract). This one can be difficult if beautiful and captivating language does not come easy. The ability to turns words into images is powerful and I believe, is cultivated from being a well-rounded person who is curious about the world. You don’t have to be a verbal superstar to notice simple truths and talk about them in your own voice. This is about finding the part of yourself that is the “salt of the earth” and putting that into words and observations.

Brevity. I can’t write this word and think about attorneys without laughing. Judges have been observing for years that attorneys are often terrible at keeping comments brief. Of course, the irritation with attorney verbosity applies to other common audiences. Investigators and government attorneys are well aware of the value and scarcity of their time. Persuasive speech or conversation must include starting with your strongest point and follow that with as few words as possible to finish the point. We all have limits to what we can absorb and retain.

On that note, I will conclude briefly.

Persuasion techniques are vital tools for the White Collar defense attorney. The good news is that they can be learned by those who take the time to understand the power of practicing and mastering each of these five precepts.

Published by Kropf Moseley

Whether you need to take a case to trial, negotiate a resolution without ever setting foot in the courtroom, or navigate a complex public relations problem, we can help. View all posts by Kropf Moseley.