Saturday, July 25, 2009

Persuasion and Emotion

In the last few weeks, the topic has been persuasion and how to be more persuasive. We have identified a few of the prime factors as:

  • Credibility – The elements by which we project trustworthiness

  • Mutual Purpose – Describing the common ground and shared benefits of a perspective

  • Laws of Persuasion – Robert Cialdini’s six “laws” that form a strategic persuasion checklist

This week, we’ll be talking about the importance of “Connecting Emotionally” with our counterpart.

Emotions play a huge role in the decision making process. This role is made more important because many of us view the best decision making as done in a “purely logical” fashion. Most business decisions are a mix of logic and emotion, which is why we can all look at the same set of facts and derive different solutions. We have different preferences due to our personal beliefs and values, which influence our emotions.

In fact, according to research first done by Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, our decision making capability is significantly impaired if we do not use emotions. He studied people who had received brain injuries that had affected them in just one way – they damaged the part of the brain where emotions are generated. In all other respects, his subjects seemed normal - they simply could no longer feel emotions.

His remarkable finding was that their ability to make decisions was seriously disrupted. They could logically describe what they should be doing, but in practice had GREAT difficulty making decisions about when to set an appointment, where to live, what to eat, etc. It seemed that those decisions that have pros and cons on both sides are ultimately sorted out by preferences, which are emotionally grounded.

The nature of business decisions are that that typically the set of facts from which we work are incomplete and they frequently have pros and cons on both sides. Therefore we NEED to understand how emotion affects decisions if we are to be persuasive.

First, the way we feel can distort our view. For example, when one is in a bad mood, one is more likely to recall negative events (Bower, 1981) and overestimate the likelihood of unfortunate occurrences (Johnson and Tversky, 1983). When one is in a good mood, we are more likely to remember positive events (Bower, 1982) and be more optimistic about their future occurrence (Wright and Bower, 1992). The implication of these findings is that if one solicits recollection or probability estimates from a person, the response is likely to be distorted by the current emotional state. It is important then to collect responses from multiple people and to compare them with any data on hand. If there are differences between the general finding and a specific finding, discuss it with the respondent. I have found that MANY times, they will modify their response to bring it more in to line with the general finding. This is consistent with Cialdini’s findings as well.

Second, we strongly consider what emotions we will feel after the decision is made as we evaluate our preferences. For instance, when faced with buying a car we may be trapped between a fast, sexy car or a plain (but very safe) car. We are trapped because the one car appeals ot our sense of adventure and the second to sense of responsibility (to our family perhaps). A primary driver of this decision will be “How will I FEEL about myself?” after I choose either car. It is important that we help people see that future state as desirable and comfortable for them if we wish to persuade them there.

We need to realize that just because WE know this, it doesn’t mean that others do. They have their own preferences in decision making and (according to Cialdini) we want to be seen as “on the same page”. This thinking also relates back to my newsletters on “THE SCORE”, but bears repeating in the context of persuasion.

  • Be aware that you’re communicating both CONTENT and FEELINGS and both are important.

  • Be calm and reasonable. It is not imperative that you reach a decision in one conversation.

  • Be brief and concise; not clipped and rushed, but respectful of your counterparts’ time. Don’t ramble.

  • Be intellectually critical and objective; not impersonal and unfriendly.

  • Accept decisions that may not be based on facts. Present feelings and emotions as additional facts to be weighed in a decision.

  • Listen. Demonstrate empathy by listening to their perspective and the impact on them. Let them talk.

  • Discuss the areas in which you agree. They can help you understand the areas in which you disagree.

  • Describe how the idea will affect people and what people’s reaction would be.

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