Posts Tagged ‘emotion’

Understanding & Influencing Choices

July 18, 2011

The Social Animal, a new book by David Brooks, asks: “Who are we? We are like spiritual Grand Central Stations. We are junctures where millions of sensations, emotions and signals interpenetrate every second. We are communications centers, and through some process we are not close to understanding, we have the ability to partially govern this traffic …We become fully ourselves only through the ever-richening interplay of our networks.”

Influences on Choice

Rodin’s thinker represents humanity. We consider ourselves thinking individuals separated from other animals by the power of reason. Choices are a big part of the reasoning we accomplish  each day – all day long. Brooks’ book provides some interesting features of our unconscious abilities.  He posits that our failure to cultivate moral and emotional faculties, our individual character, emotions and intuitions have huge opportunity cost.

Underneath any choice is architecture comprised of a set of structures  that defines  options. Logic consists of “if, then” sequences. For example, if we exercise often and eat well, then we’ll have good health. Your leadership can influence critical elements in choice architecture which will, ultimately, influence team and organization performance. “Priming” is one point of intervention  and “anchoring” is another.

Priming & Anchoring

Research shows that perceptions can influence people and then alters their  actions. This is priming. So, if you tell your staff to about a team that delivered results (“nimble,” innovative” and “successful”) they will perform better than they would without hearing the story. Likewise negative references oppress achievement. There is power in setting a positive tone and pointing out positive examples.

Anchoring is another helpful technique with teams. Because humans process information in context, it is important to be aware of mental patterns of relativity. Defining a commonly held understanding or “anchoring” is vital to integrated processes because it assures everyone has a shared idea of the intended goals or vision. For example, a “rich life” could be understood as holding substantial financial assets. However, some might consider it reflects good health or many intimate relationships (or both). Without an anchor or shared understanding, collective progress may be at great risk. Do you specify ideas, goals or practices in ways that ensure success? Do you intentionally minimize the potential for  multiple interpretations, assumptions and perspectives that interfere?

Other important factors that influence choices include: framing, expectations, inertia, arousal and loss aversion. They are all present and in dynamic play when working with others. These unconscious biases come to work every day.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See

So Facts Have A Chance – Lead With Values

June 6, 2011


What’s the best way to position change?

  • Connect to emotions through values and beliefs.
  • Support with dynamite facts.
  • Launch with specific and challenging objectives.

Yale studies have shown fictional newspaper headlines score differently with readers depending on resonance with their values.  Dan Kahan calls this “a culture war of fact.” Values and beliefs predispose one to reception of information. Simply put: a rational case is wholly inadequate to drive change.

 The Stubborn Status Quo

People and systems are desperately stubborn about keeping the status quo. Closed minds, preferences, established interests and other factors work hard to keep things the same. Regardless of how “broken,” the familiar is far preferred to new and different. This context is a fundamental reality in change management.

Inside organizations, managing change may be explicit or  embedded in other work. As an intentional adaption, change is often focused on efficiency or effectiveness.   Sometimes it’s competencies among sales staff, other times it might mean new processes in logistics and supply, purchasing or a software upgrade. In large organizations this special work is conceived and managed by organization development (OD) or effectiveness (OE) functions.

 People & Emotion

Regardless of the context it always means working with people. It very often requires learning. It also translates to deliberate attention to culture, strategy, and structures. This post brings a gentle reminder: it is never devoid of emotion.

 In your role as a manager and leader, you have special considerations in paving the way for new and different. Citing a clear case of need is logical and necessary. However, research shows that progress is rarely affected by facts alone. Six decades ago Stanford psychologist Leon Festinger wrote “A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he fails to see your point.”

Even when evidence is unequivocal, “motivated reasoning” or pre-existing beliefs skew opinion and behavior far more than facts. An enthusiastic and urgent message that resonates with emotion is powerful.  Positive and negative feelings about others, things and ideas occur far more rapidly (in milliseconds) than our conscious thought. Humans push away perceptions of threat; we pull comforting information close.

 Facts Alone Fail

Have you ever failed with a direct, unadorned attempt to persuade via facts? Sometimes this doesn’t change minds but empowers the current point of view. It can result in wrong views held more tenaciously. This underscores why appeals to (and support for) emotions are essential to convince people to take the journey from their current reality to a new one.

Given the power of prior beliefs, if you want someone to accept new evidence, be sure to offer it in a way that avoids a defensive emotional reaction. So the facts have a chance, lead with values.

  –Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow.

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