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Influencing others: the role of emotion

Career advice

Already the ancient Greeks knew it: there is nothing such as appealing to people’s emotions if you want to move them towards a decision or action. Aristotle, in his principles of persuasion, stated that a strong rationale (logos) and personal credibility (ethos) are not enough – emotional appeal (pathos) is essential if you want to influence others.


While we like to think that our decisions – and business decisions in particular – are rational and based on facts and logical reasoning, research tells us that human decision-making is widely based on emotional and unconscious processes. Rationality and mind alone cannot decide anything but are very helpful in generating explanations to justify our decisions.


In other words, if we want to influence others, we need to speak to their emotions and imagination. We need to create the right emotional environment for our listeners to receive our message in the way we want them to. We need to help them to identify with our message.


And don’t worry. No need to squeeze out crocodile tears or rip your shirt apart while shouting in falsetto. There is a number of simple and concrete ways to enhance your emotional appeal as a speaker.


5 ways to influence others using emotional appeal


Set your intention

Before your meeting or presentation, be clear on what you want people to feel and do as a result of your intervention. Do you want to them to feel excited? Make sure that you embody and express excitement. Wherever you want them to go, you need to go there first.


Take interest in them

Who are the people you want to influence? What do they value, what do they hope to gain, and what are they afraid of losing? By understanding their perspective, you can frame your message in a way that is more likely to appeal to them. During your presentation or meeting, make sure to involve your audience by asking for their input and addressing their concerns. Be in conversation rather than presentation mode, and make it be all about them – not about you.


Focus and connect

There is no better gift you can offer your audience than your undivided attention. Focus your mind and your body – imagine all your mental, physical and vocal energy directed towards your audience, with no “leakage” to the sides. Fidgeting movements and restless feet will distract your audience and indicate that your mind is somewhere else. So will filler sounds (uhm, eh..) and wandering eyes.


Create a real connection by moving closer to your audience, getting full eye contact and locking on. Use people’s personal names or names of groups that they associate with, such as “engineers”, “senior managers”, and “ambitious people”.


Make it personal and show passion

Reflect on how you feel about the moment, the situation, the people you are with, and express it. Tell people why the subject matters to you.


Tell a story that your audience can identify with and that helps bring out the emotion and the values that you want to transmit. Good stories often involve archetype characters facing difficult choices, overcoming obstacles or solving conflict. Sensory details such as what a place looked, sounded and smelled like, will spark your audience’s imagination and bring them into the story. If the story involves you, emphasize your shortcomings, doubts, and failures rather than your heroic qualities. Your weaknesses make you human in the eyes of your audience and will enhance the emotional appeal of your story.


Paint a picture with your words

Vivid descriptive language is more memorable than dull data speak. Painting sensory rich word pictures can help our audience see, hear and feel what we are talking about. Compare the following simple examples:


  • “I understand” (Sensory neutral)
  • “I see what you mean” (Visual language)
  • “That strikes a chord with me” (Auditory / Kinaesthetic language)
  • “I like the sound of that.” (Auditory)
  • “I immediately grasped his meaning” (Kinaesthetic language)
  • Analogies, metaphors, and other figures of speech allow you to make an emotional connection by replacing an abstract concept by something familiar. For example:
  • “The business cycle is a pendulum, swinging back and forth from peaks of prosperity, down through economic troughs, and back up again.”


Does it not come naturally to you?


Article by Maria, Career Lab Coach.