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Emotional Connection

For persuading an audience, connecting with their emotional needs is more effective than just presenting facts.

One CIO explains, "[I] was very fortunate early in my career to learn all anyone really needs to know about meeting clients' expectations." After personal interviews with business, corporate officers, and general management, he reported, "[L]et me say what those clients were telling me in a single sentence: 'I probably won't remember what you say to me, I may not even remember what you do for me, but I'll never forget how you make me feel.'" [9]

You are an [Evangelist] or [Dedicated Champion] who has been studying and working with a new idea. You may be using [Test the Waters]. You may be trying it out in your own work [Just Do It]. As you learn more about the possibilities for your new idea, you're communicating this information in conversations [Personal Touch], in a [Brown Bag], or by posting [In Your Space].

People are listening as you present information about your new idea, but aren't getting involved or taking any action to show that they've accepted what you're saying.

You're getting good at communicating the facts. You have a snazzy PowerPoint presentation with slides showing lists of bullet points. You have your [Elevator Pitch] ready, and you're careful to make sure that others understand the problem [Wake-Up Call]. This is a good way to begin—your listeners must know about an idea before they can be influenced to accept it. But a list of facts isn't very persuasive.

Information overload is a fact of life, and details are quickly forgotten. We all interpret facts to support our own deep-rooted belief systems; if the facts don't fit, we ignore, challenge, or dismiss them. As a result, listeners may respond with, "She isn't making any sense. Is she serious?" They'll be anxious about how the change is likely to affect them, and they could even become angry if they don't see signs that you and the organization relate to their concerns.

We all slip into automatic-response mode whenever possible. We avoid cognitive evaluation because it's hard work. This doesn't mean that we're lazy; it's actually a primitive survival instinct. We automatically take the path of least resistance to conserve energy in case we are attacked or threatened. This is why we don't act on logic and reason; instead, we make emotional decisions and then justify them with logic and reason. [10]

Someone who truly understands your pain can inspire a sense of hope in the power of a new idea for overcoming your troubles. Research reported in The Heart & Soul of Change has found that the chemistry in emotionally charged relationships is a key factor in inspiring hope and a desire to change. [11]

Harvard Business School professor John Kotter explains, "[C]hanging organizations depends overwhelmingly on changing the emotions of the individual members. […]Thinking and feeling are essential[…]but the heart of change is in the emotions." [12]


Build an emotional connection to bridge the underlying concerns of your audience and your idea for change.

Foster relationships that allow you to become aware of others' interests and fears. Be willing to listen, to try to understand their thoughts and feelings. Become intrigued with all there is to learn from each person. Look for ways in which you are alike, so you can identify with the person—this will build a relationship that connects on an emotional level.

Know your audience—what do they care about? Acknowledge, respect, and address their deep concerns. Personalize your presentations so you're no longer just a talking head with a good idea. Share your own experiences and be honest about your shortcomings. Tell your story about how and why you became convinced about the idea that you're proposing. Exhibit humility and a sincere enthusiasm for the big possibilities in your little idea.

Think about how you can engage the senses of your audience. Include memorable images and stories with names, details, places, and events that are meaningful and credible to your audience. [13] Ask listeners to visualize a better future.

Create a sense of ownership for the problem and a "we can do it" belief in the solution. You'll need to show that there's a problem [Wake-Up Call], but there's no need to dwell on it. Cultivate hope instead of fear and resentment. Build an environment in which people will have a desire to act, by expressing your belief in each person's value and unique ability to contribute.

If you become aware of any strong negative emotions among the people you're trying to convince, investigate the reason. Address it directly, but be patient—the passion in negative feelings, such as anger, doesn't allow people to be willing listeners. You may need to delay conversations until the intense anger has diminished.

To help you appreciate the role of emotions in decision-making, reflect on some of the decisions you've made in your life—what emotions guided you? This realization will help you to recognize and take advantage of the emotional reactions you see in others.

You'll become more persuasive. You'll bring participants more deeply into the game and make it possible to have more enlightening discussions about your idea and the changes you're proposing.

However, this may be difficult to put into practice. Most of us find that it's easier to present the hard facts; analysis is more comfortable than digging deep into feelings. You can begin by just going through the emotions—cognitive scientists tell us that when we behave in a certain way, we become more like the image we project. [14] Therefore, even if you're uncomfortable with this pattern, your behavior can gradually change the way you feel, until you can develop deeper concerns for those you're trying to influence. Practice is important—taking [Small Steps] and continuing to [Just Do It] will allow you to improve.

This approach is also risky. Presenting facts gives you a solid foundation and safety. Good stories will really transport the message, but stories badly told are embarrassing. Even worse, if people don't like your story or your storytelling, then it can backfire and be painful because the resistance is personal.

The Ornish heart-health program is based on understanding that bad habits and addictions are really misguided solutions to underlying psychological and emotional problems such as depression, stress, unhappiness, and loneliness. Therefore, patients spend time with a support system of those who understand, care, inspire a sense of hope, and teach addicts how to learn, practice, and master a new lifestyle. [15]

Before he became a U.S. senator, Frank Lautenberg was a corporate CEO. His firm was a pioneer of the computer age, and, like most businesspeople, especially those in technical fields, Frank thrived on facts. As a senator, he became a champion of the environment, mastering the technicalities of environmental legislation. When it came time to run for reelection, Lautenberg had a hard time translating his many environmental accomplishments into language his constituents could understand. He'd stand in a town hall meeting in Verona, New Jersey, and wonder why his audience would fall asleep. Amy Knox was one of Lautenberg's younger constituents, a little girl who lived in Mt. Holly, New Jersey. Amy was battling cancer, a disease she believed she'd contracted because she lived near a toxic site. A tough, brave kid, Amy had started a community group called PUKE (People United for a Klean Environment) and had written to her senator asking for support. Lautenberg had offered help and encouragement, doing everything a good senator should do. Finally, someone thought to remove the jargon from Lautenberg's speeches and replace it with stories of this little girl's courage. "When I'm on the floor of the Senate," he would say, "and the big polluters and their pin-striped lobbyists are trying to use our state as their dumping group, I think of Amy Knox." As a result, Lautenberg was able to communicate his message and win reelection.

KeySpan is a publicly traded, $6 billion Brooklyn-based utility with 12,000 employees in New York and New England. It's one of the largest energy companies in the Northeast and the fifth-largest natural gas distributor in the U.S. The company has spawned an atmosphere that most companies desire but struggle to achieve. Without fanfare, KeySpan has embraced a management philosophy that somehow balances bottom-line demands with a sense of caring and family. There's a palpable belief in the proposition that what's good for the soul is also good for business. Kenny Moore is a former monk with the title of Corporate Ombudsman, a position created for him by CEO Bob Catell. Kenny reports directly to Catell and roams the company freely, listening to the concerns of employees and executives while "engaging the soul of the company," as he likes to put it. His role is to help foster corporate change in a time of difficult transformation and to infuse the agenda with a sense of spiritual connectedness. What's different about KeySpan? Perhaps it's the recognition that employees bring all their baggage to work. The company accepts that it must reach people not only on a professional level but on emotional and personal levels. [16]

Mahatma Gandhi began his change initiative by attempting to persuade others with facts. When this didn't work, he became a master of appealing to people's feelings rather than their rational thinking. (For many examples, see the film Gandhi.)

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