A Short Essay on Form and Emotion

Recent research has shown that in respect to emotion charismatic communicators:

1. have reached a level of psychological maturity whereas they feel emotions themselves quite strongly;

2. have a well-developed capacity to induce emotions in others

Assuming that you have achieved a reasonable level of emotional and ethical maturity, let us look at some of the tools and skills you will need to improve your ability to evoke particular emotional states in others.

Delivery style (Form) and structure of messages (Form) have been shown to outweigh content in numerous studies. In the nineties, studies of leader rhetoric by Professor Jay Conger of the University of Southern California and others strongly suggested that word structure, use of symbols and expression are deciding factors in the extent to which people will become aroused, inspired and committed to a leader's message. Arousal and the feelings of inspiration, of course, are emotional states.

Evoking Emotions

Emotion-based messages are more effective in gaining acceptance of an idea than reason-based or logical approaches. In an important paper on nonverbal skill, personal charisma and initial attraction researchers go as far as to claim that personal charisma centres on "dramatic flair involving the desire and ability to communicate emotions and thereby influence others." Researchers seem to have finally caught up with what the advertising industry has taken as a given for the last seven decades: you don't sell the sausage, you sell the sizzle.

Charismatic and influential communicators recognise that meaning is the outcome of human intercourse. They work with their listeners to create and shape the definitions that lead to meaning, and emotions play a primary role in creating meaning.

Charismatic communicators view followers and audiences as active participants and not passive spectators. Those who think and behave charismatically understand that emotion drives action. They do not skint on the expression of their own emotions and they create scenarios in which to share emotion with their followers.

To understand the importance of emotion, turn on your television set and study the commercial breaks, read a newspaper for the ads or listen to radio commercials for the underlying emotions they evoke:

A busty bimbo draped over a Buick in a local newspaper ad. Television images of fun-loving, acne-free teenagers hooning around on a beach with the girls of their dreams and drinking brown muck in a shapely bottle. A commercial featuring a warm, loving family (grandpa included) expressing terminal goodwill towards each other, while pushing burgers with a fat content exceeding that of Jay Leno down their throats.

Let's take the hamburger example to illustrate how you can be drawn in by messages designed to evoke unconscious choice by pressing your emotional hot buttons. The first thing to consider is that you do not enter the experience of viewing the ad with an empty mind. You bring to the experience all your memories, hope, values, beliefs, past decisions, perceptions and so on. Imagine you're the parent of a fairly young family. Now let's look at what the hamburger ad depicts:

A warm and friendly atmosphere (enhanced by yellow lens filters and perfect mood music), a young family in deep rapport, the kids impeccably behaved and directing loving looks at mum and dad. Mum winks at dad with a sweetness that would melt the heart of Pol Pot as she takes a delicate bite of her burger. Little Melissa manages to do the impossible - suck on her shake and smile at the same time. Grandad playfully runs one hand through little Troy's number two haircut, clutching a handful of golden french fries in the other, mouth poised to receive them. The junk-food giant's name and logo leap on to the screen, and a jingle reinforces the family theme.

The message? Families that eat cholesterol bombs together will be so close they can hear each other's arteries harden! Your unconscious response? Wouldn't it be great to take the family into a restaurant and have that experience?

What a feeling of longing the scene would evoke in parents of real-life Melissas and Troys: warts and all kids who affect to have the word 'no' permanently formed on their lips. Kids who cost a fortune to educate; who won't clean their rooms; who always want something, and who can be so emotionally draining with their petulance and self-absorption you feel like strangling them at times.

And to have a pop like that! A gentle patriarch who isn't always interfering with the raising of the kids; whose language isn't peppered with 'shoulds', ought to's' and 'musts' and whose emotions are not imprisoned behind a wall of post World War Two machismo.

The spin-doctors that created the ad would be highly aware of the pressures of family life. They may well have researched them to identify key triggering agents. They know through experience and research that a powerful 'go for it' impulse is required to overcome the quite natural objections middle class parents may have to fat-saturated junk food. They needed something quite extraordinary to produce an emotional propellant, and what better motive in these days of unhappy or stressed families than a promise of a familial Garden of Eden at a local hamburger joint?

The above is an example of unethical persuasion, because everyone who has ever had the impulse to rush into a junk food outlet, ostensibly to have a family experience, knows that the experience never matches up to the promise.

However, the process the advertising agency designed to create and share an emotional space with its target audience is similar to that of effective charismatic communiactors. The only significant difference is that ethical charismatic communicators would choose to sell something more meaningful and healthy than a double-beef-triple-bacon cheeseburger with fries. They would evoke emotion in what they passionately believed were legitimate story lines to reinforce a major point.

In our professional lives we may like to operate under the illusion that reason is the basis of most of our major decisions. Why is it, then, that in survey after survey of business leaders and executives the vast majority of respondents report that they make their major decisions mainly on hunches and "gut feel"?

Under the veneer of reason you will inevitably discover emotions at play. This is why the expression, reading and evoking of emotions are so important in the persuasion process

Ethical charismatic communicators are mindful that emotions play the primary role in people's choices to act or not to act on their ideas and suggestions. They understand two important aspects of emotional exchange. First, they pay attention to their audiences' collective state of mind and constantly monitor for changes in the emotional state of their listeners. They calibrate responses and fashion the form and content of their messages so as to pace and lead their audience to more receptive emotional states.

The second important factor about those who act and behave charismatically is that they give themselves permission to show the degree of emotional commitment they have in their own ideas and visions. They reveal that the origins of their ideas are not only from their heads but also from their hearts. From a whisper to a roar, the emotional appeal of their messages mirrors what they more than often accurately perceive are the emotional states of their audiences.

(C) Desmond Guilfoyle 1998

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