Lesson 96: Techniques of persuasion in negotiation for translators

Lesson 96: Techniques of persuasion in negotiation for translators

In previous posts on negotiation, we talked about the process of negotiating from preparations to closing the deal. I’ve underlined that it’s important to argue your case when explaining to the client why the rates or the deadline should be what we’re saying, not what they’re saying. It made me think about the course I took at the university about techniques of persuasion and I realised that I’ve been using them in a variety of forms in my marketing materials, but also in negotiation for translators. I thought I’m going to share some introductory ideas about how to be more persuasive.

It all started with Aristotle’s “On rhetoric” (which I read both in Polish and in English, great translations) who has laid the foundations of persuasion, in other words the art of influencing and convincing others. In business specifically, persuasion is aimed at changing a person’s attitude or behaviour towards an idea, or object. In other words, if we’re trying to change our client’s attitude to rates they reject we’re using persuasion.

Broadly speaking, Aristotle argued that persuasion is based on three modes of appeal: logos, pathos and ethos, and the right combination of those, appropriate in a given context and for a given client, is needed to achieve goals.

Logos is based on the logical appeal. It often employs facts and figures to support the claims. For example, I’m using the logical appeal on my home page with my slogan: “83% of buyers are more likely to choose your product if I do the translation.” It’s a statement of fact further underlined by the use of a tangible figure. A similar effect can be achieved if you tell the client how many words you’ve translated, or how many clients have trusted you so far. But logos is not only about numbers, it also involves the clarity of your argument and its value. If you manage to make a strong case based on facts, logos will have a great impact on your persuasive appeal.

Pathos is, in other words, the appeal to emotions. And by the way, I think it’s one of the most underused tools available to us when selling translation. Of course, pathos doesn’t mean that we want to make our clients cry or experience strong emotions. It’s all about appealing to the emotional, not just the cold rational side of a potential client. It can take the form of a metaphor, simile, a play on words, or anything that makes your client feel “connected” with you. To give you an example from my practice, once I convinced a client to work with me because I casually mentioned that a member of my family used to work in the same business and I remembered some facts about how they worked. A little thing, and perhaps in some cultures borderline acceptable in the business context, made me connect with this particular prospect.

Ethos, the third foundation of persuasion, is an appeal to the authority or credibility. You’re using ethos if you’re a notable figure in the field or when clients recognise your authority. It’s often based on your experience and education and how you manage to communicate your expertise to clients. At times, ethos is tacit and comes attached with reputation. If you’ve been recommended to a particular client, they’re accepting your ethos because others have found you credible and trustworthy. Displaying recommendations on your websites or using case studies can reinforce your ethos.
The challenge, of course, is to find the right balance between these three forms of appeal, especially in a negotiation process. We should start with ethos when negotiating, because if clients accept our authority, it’s much easier for us to persuade them to accept our terms. Then I’d suggest using logos to present the client with a series of strong, irrefutable arguments, followed by pathos to make the client feel good about the decision.

What I’d recommend you to do now is to prepare a list of what you could say or write under logos, pathos and ethos, and also what actions you can take now to increase the appeal.


These of course are very broad foundations of persuasion. There are also some techniques I think you should know.


According to the principle of reciprocity, if we give something to another person for free, they feel obliged to repay in kind. It’s a very powerful tool and I’d suggest you to think about how you could implement it in negotiating with direct clients especially. Sometimes even writing a blog and sharing useful information with clients through newsletters may create a sense of obligation, or at least loyalty, in them. This is also the reason why free translation samples work, or if you translate a few sentences from a potential client’s website and send it to them with a friendly note, they’re more willing to reply.

Social proof

Related to ethos, social proof is based on the assumption that we want to be doing what everybody else, also in business. This is the way you work, too, if you think about it. We all like the most popular apps, the best accountants in town, we want to go to events that everybody else goes to. If you manage to convince your potential clients that you’re a sought-after expert, either through your reputation or a collection of testimonials, you’ll be using social proof to persuade.


Whether we like it or not, liking plays a huge role in persuasion. People say yes to people they like. In general, the theory says that liking is based on two factors: physical appeal and similarity. Leaving physical appeal aside, similarity means that if a potential client finds you similar in a certain way, they’re more likely to want to work with you. How can you use this technique?


We all tend to believe that if an expert says something, it must be true. Stemming from ethos, authority is based on knowledge and trustworthiness. Again, if you manage to build them up, you’re likely to be more successful in persuasion.


Scarcity is all about limited availability. According to Cialdini, another prominent figure in the art of persuasion, “people want more of what they cannot have.” Letting your customers know you’re busy or that your time is limited, you’re more likely to make them want to use your services. This also works when you put time constraints on estimates and quotes you’re sending.

Of course, the whole challenge around persuasion is knowing which appeal to use, when and with which client. It also takes some time and practice to start using these techniques. Like I said, I do recommend you to brainstorm and write down which arguments and tactics come to your mind under each of those tactics.


  1. Magda , on Oct 12, 2014 at 20:07 Reply

    This is really useful, Marta. I will try and come up with a wording to use in those cases that a potential client emails me. I usually respond to what they ask me but I will try integrate this treasure trove on persuasion! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 3, 2015 at 18:58 Reply

      Thank you, Magda. Let me know if you have any good ideas!

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