3 Steps for Tapping Into the Power of Emotion

Oil pumping rig
Oil pumping rig (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most people agree that emotion is a powerful tool for persuasion. It helps humanize you, inspires empathy, creates common ground and breaks down the walls between you and the people you’re trying to reach.

I’m often asked how you get to that emotional place, especially if you are more of the stoic type — say, more Spock than Kirk. In fact, I was asked this the other day in a radio interview (starts around the 34:00 mark) and I was so caught up in telling my fascinating Ricky Gervais story that I didn’t quite get to the practical tips. So here’s where I do that.

Drill, Baby, Drill

I talk about “tapping into” emotion because it’s a little like drilling for oil. Everyone has an emotional reservoir within them. For some, it’s just below the surface and easy to access. In fact, once tapped, it can be hard to turn off — I worked with an executive who had an almost Boehner-like crying problem and it quickly wore thin on audiences. Emotion should be used judiciously.

For others, though, the reservoirs lie deep within them and you have to resort to drastic measures. The equivalent of hydraulic fracking, if you will.

So how do you tap into that black gold so you can be more persuasive in meetings, interviews and other interactions? I recommend you go you through three levels of exploration, starting near the surface and going deeper with each phase.

Level 1: Work Life

In all my years in business one thing that has struck me is the pride people take in their jobs. No matter how menial or inconsequential the task may seem, most people feel like what they’re doing matters. So ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you love about your job?
  • What makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
  • How does your work contribute to the big picture?
  • How does the product you make or service you provide make peoples’ lives better, in ways big or small?
  • Are you proud of what you do? Why?
  • What about the company’s history and heritage — are you proud to be part of that?

This level will work with many people, but not all. I was interviewing a guy who maintains machinery on a factory production line and when I asked him what he loves about his job he looked at me like I was nuts.

But I did manage to break through by taking it a step further and asking about his co-workers. He said they depended on him to keep things running smoothly and he didn’t want to let them down. Boom! It’s no surprise that people often feel a strong bond to those with whom they spend half their waking hours.

If none of that works, though, proceed to the next level.

Level 2: Outside Interests

Do you have a hobby or avocation that keeps you occupied outside the workplace? Do you paint, sculpt, craft? Do you play golf, tennis, softball, bridge? Are you a singer, guitarist, pianist, karaokeist (er?).

What is it about that activity that brings you joy or satisfaction? The opportunity for self expression? The endorphin rush? The discipline, the focus, the drive it takes to master it?

All of these are fair game, especially if you can find a way to relate the activity to your work. “Customer service is like executing the perfect backhand volley …”

Still dry? Time to go deeper.

Level 3: Family Life

Everybody has had a mom or dad. Most have a spouse or significant other. Many have brothers, sisters, children. Assuming they’re important to you, think about them. Talk about them.

  • What do you love about them?
  • What makes them special?
  • How do/did they make you who you are?
  • What’s the best lesson your dad or mom taught you?
  • What do your kids think you do?

If none of this works, it may be time to get a little maudlin. Don’t be afraid to go there:

  • Do you get to spend as much time with your family as you’d like?
  • What sacrifices have you made for your career? Missed birthdays, recitals, etc.
  • What do you miss most when you’re away from your family?

You can use these questions to talk about your family explicitly (most people relate to these kinds of stories). Or you can use them to “prime the pump,” just as an actor will internally reference some important moment or event in her life to add meaning and depth to the role she’s playing.

So if you’re feeling stiff or closed off, try these steps. You may not hit a gusher every time, but you should be able to bring something to the surface.