The Thoughts Feelings Dyad: How Balance Increases Persuasive Appeal

Media research reinforces how emotions drive viewing and listening choices in selected audiences in radio and television. Even ‘Hate Radio’, as we know it, gains its audiences by pressing the emotional Hot Buttons of targeted audiences: outrage buttons, disgust buttons, anger buttons, despair buttons, particularly in the upper demographics. This form of stimulation reinforces a hate radio audience’s pre-existing emotions and may even give them pleasure.

Feelings drive actions: the action media operators are most concerned about is encouraging listeners to commit the act of choice in favour of their products and services - in other words, tune in, and stay tuned in. The same thing applies in presentations to groups – you need your listeners to tune in and stay tuned in if your message is to be heard.

The challenge is, then, to decide on the kind of emotions you wish to evoke in your audiences: emotions that drive listeners to act by choosing to listen and pay attention to you and your message.

They don’t have to be negative emotions like fear, hate, jealousy or outrage, although on some occasions they can legitimately be associated with your message. They can be emotions that are more useful to people’s everyday lives. They can be emotions which stir people to create a better future, generating optimism, hope, humour, strength, control, curiosity and so on.

So, if people think-feel and then commit the act of choice to listen or not listen to you, what kind of emotions could you stir ethically? Below is an incomplete list that you may like to add to:

curiosity confidence exhilaration

enthusiasm shock humour

self-control empowerment desire

hope expectation anticipation

titillation thrill scepticism

suspense belonging sense of knowing

sympathy empathy discovery

happiness joy material desire (greed?)

status triumph (winning) pleasure

concern motivation comfort

encouragement re-assurance disbelief

courage passion certainty

Content is all about positioning. If the content of your message regularly stirs a range of the above emotions, people will associate you with the generally useful emotions evoked. This is what is meant by gaining a ‘Share of Heart’.

By tapping appropriate emotions you can associate pleasure and stimulation with what you’re doing. The linkage of pleasure and stimulation to the experience of listening to your presentation greatly enhances the possibility of your message being taken on board by your audience.

Only Giving Head?

It is a myth that thoughts and feelings can be separated. This myth gives rise to the idea that you can have a discourse, debate, or just a plan old conversation and not feel anything at all.

Much of the rhetoric that many speakers engage in is based on the spurious notion that you can separate thoughts from feeling. This reveals itself in interesting ways:

¨ ‘Hard heads’ who suppress the music and emotion of their voices because it gives them “credibility” and “balance”.

¨ Stories told in abstract language, which removes the ‘life’ from the story.

¨ Real serious discourses with ‘analysis’, without real life examples in which to embed an audience’s experience.

¨ Speakers sounding as if they have the world on their shoulders and every word uttered must be spoken with gravity.

¨ Presenters with personal phobias that reflect a fear of so-called trivialisation.

¨ Discourse using language that removes the speakers or moderator from the ‘dirty world’ of human emotions.

¨ Conversations conducted in ‘surface rhetoric’, such as econo-speak, pollie-speak, or in-house shorthand.

You might be interested to know that the pre-scientific notion of separating thoughts from emotions was revived and championed by a philosopher called Descartes, who lived a couple of hundred years ago.

The notion had been around since biblical times, but he picked it up and ran with it. He proclaimed that somewhere, he wasn’t quite sure where, there existed absolute ‘truth’. His method of finding that somewhere was to somehow lapse into “pure rationality” in order to take a “a God’s Eye view” in the hope that all would be revealed. He failed.

In many ways, the assumption that there is such a thing as objectivity, pure rationality, non-bias and dispassion still governs much of the practice of so-called rational debate and discourse.

Rational debate, by its very rules, demands that you separate thoughts from feelings, and engage in “unfeeling” dialogue. This still happens in some pockets of academia as well as business and the media.

Interestingly, modern psychology has a name for people who have stopped feeling for others, or can’t think-feel in the concrete realm any more. They’re called sociopaths.

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