Say it with feeling and pass it along

by | Jul 28, 2011 | Blog | 0 comments

Data Divas and Fact Fiends, please enjoy all of your analytics, but don’t deny the rest of us—or yourselves—the joy of emotions.

While many think we suppress our feelings for facts in the business world, social scientists and neuroscientists know otherwise. We’re not only emotional, but we also relish sharing those emotions.

In fact, years of social psychology research have shown that emotions are the ties that bind. And when we share feelings, we build stronger connections and solidarity with others.

Or as Jonah Lehrer wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Why You Just Shared That Baby Video”, “We don’t want to share facts—we want to share feelings.”

Lehrer wrote about another Jonah, Jonah Berger, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Professor Berger has been studying what types of information people share via the internet. The most viral stories and video clips are those that arouse the most emotions, especially awe and anger.

The rationale has a chemical basis. When we experience things that excite us, our body chemistry changes and our heart beats faster. In this aroused state, we’re much more likely to pass along items that stimulate us.

In a laboratory setting, Professor Berger had people jog in place to get their heart rate up. After that, they became more likely to pass along information. And that information tended to be more provocative than practical tidbits. Think jokes, not stock prices.

What does this mean to those of us leading change inside organizations?

If you can’t fix it, feature it, as one of my change mentors used to say. Actually, create excitement and energy to get people experiencing emotions. For example:

  • When you’re planning meetings and other events, think about the feelings you want to evoke in the meeting participants. Pay particular attention to the messages you want them to remember and pass along. Then make sure you create emotionally-laden experiences.
  • Use videos so employees will see images as well as hear words and music. Make sure people are talking naturally, not reading a script, so their messages are heartfelt and authentic. You can accomplish this with real people, not actors or animals. (Although children, such as Harry and Charlie in the 56-second viral video Charlie bit my finger – again!, or dogs in the TherapyPets video above do have a special appeal. By the way, my TherapyPet companion Gustav, who has a cameo in the video, has been called a young George Clooney in a dog’s body, but I digress.)
  • Provide opportunities for people to mingle, talk and play. They may bond over their experiences, which makes them more likely to build stronger relationships. These relationships can help them and you work better together to implement your change initiative.

How do you feel about this? And what are you going to do to get others to share your feelings?


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