Influencing Skills: Emotions in Decision Making

And how we can use that knowledge to persuade and influence more effectively

By Carolyn Crawford

Being aware of your emotional state when making a decision, and the impact that will have on your decision, pays dividends. It may well be worth waiting for ‘the mood to pass’, or consciously shifting your state, before committing (see our blog on Sports Psychology For Communicators).

Equally, being aware of the emotional state of your business colleagues, or consciously assisting them in shifting their own state of mind, are crucial components in the influencing process.

The following studies are quoted from Wikipedia:

“Much research has been conducted on the various impacts of emotion on decision-making. Some examples that indicate the complexity and breadth of those impacts are listed below.

  1. In one study, Luce (1998) found that decision-makers made to consider safety concerns that induced negative emotions when deciding which car to purchase were more likely to “choose not to choose,” or to stick with the status quo. [10]
  2. In another study (Leith & Baumeister, 1996), participants who experienced “frustrated anger” were more likely to choose a high risk, high reward option in a lottery – a choice the authors categorize as “self-defeating.” [11]
  3. Lerner, Small and Loewenstein (2004) found that study participants who had been induced to feel sad were likely to set a lower selling price for an item they were asked to sell as a part of the study; the researchers suggest that selling the item would bring about a change in the participants’ circumstances and thus perhaps a positive change in mood.[12]
  4. On a positive note, participants with “normal emotion processing” who, when engaged in a card-drawing task experienced losses (and associated negative emotions) when drawing from “dangerous decks,” made safer and more lucrative choices thereafter. Participants with brain damage that had left them unable to experience such emotional responses did not change their behavior in this way. [13]
  5. Research done by Isen and Patrick (1983) put forth the theory of “mood maintenance” which states that happy decision-makers are reluctant to gamble. In other words, happy people decide against gambling, since they would not want to undermine the happy feeling.
  6. Alternately, the influence of negative feelings at the time of decision-making was studied by Raghunathan and Tuan Pham (1999). They conducted three experiments in gambling decisions and job selection decisions, where unhappy subjects were found to prefer high-risk/high-reward options unlike anxious subjects who preferred low-risk/low-reward options.

So Aristotle’s original contention that we need to appeal to Ethos (the credibility of the speaker as created by the clarity and correctness of their argument); logos (supporting statements preferably in the form of tangible evidence); and pathos (appealing to the emotions of the ‘audience’ or reader, putting them in a suitable mood by addressing their knowledge or feelings on the subject), still stands.

How do you appeal to people’s emotions you may ask? Or more specifically, their sympathies and imagination which is what pathos more deeply implies. Two tools are critical in the process of engaging the audience’s emotions.

The first is a content tool being the use of metaphors and stories. We link to a couple of good articles about business story-telling in our blog here: Business Story-telling.

The second is a delivery tool, being the passion and conviction of the speaker/writer. Emotions are essentially contagious (you can learn more about emotional contagion here: ). Which is why it is crucial that we don’t ‘travel incognito’ when speaking persuasively, but imbibe our spoken or written piece with authentic emotions.

In short, give some thought to the likely emotional state of your audience, consider the goal state, and use empirical evidence, as well as anecdotal in the form of analogies and stories, to bring them along on your own emotional journey to maximise the chance of both intellectual and emotional buy-in.

  1. ^ Luce, 1998
  2. ^ Leith and Baumeister, 1996
  3. ^ Lerner, Small, and Loewenstein, 2004
  4. ^ Bechara, Damasio, Damasio, and Lee, 1999
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