Customers make their purchasing decision based on emotion, and then justify it with reason.
Every successful salesperson can tell you that. But is there a demonstrable truth behind that aphorism? Neuroscience has proven that there is! And not just for purchasing decisions: every decision the human mind makes is ultimately emotional. This startling insight carries with it implications for speakers, trainers, teachers, and leaders.
That was the central theme of a presentation I delivered recently for my local ASTD chapter. The central image of my message was the sad-looking little guy below. We’ll get to him in a minute. First, I’m sure you’ll want me to justify that startling claim.
I refer the reader to the book How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. In the first chapter, he describes the story of a patient named Elliot, whose unusual behavior after a brain operation led one researcher down a road to entirely unexpected discoveries. Modern science is permeated with the idea that emotions reside in the more primitive, “animal” parts of the brain; what distinguishes humans from animals is our ability to rise above instinctive behavior and make rational decisions using the higher-order processes residing in our frontal cortex.
This understanding just happens to be wrong, as neuroscience – the merging of psychology and neurology made possible by recent breakthroughs in brain-activity imaging – has shown us.
As it turns out, the interplay of emotion and intellect is more complicated than 20th-century science would have us believe. Our decision-making center is located in the emotion-processing parts of the brain, and only accessed when needed (one hopes it is, anyway!) by the reasoning centers. In short: every decision is ultimately an emotional one. When we process a choice rationally and decide, the course of action we “think” best is really the one that our emotional brain makes us “feel” better about! In the words of Lehrer, “A brain that can’t feel can’t make up its mind.”
An Emotional Vacuum!
Now connect that dot with this one: to learn requires not only being exposed to new thinking, but also that the learner make the decision to allow the new thinking to either displace or modify old thinking. No decision, no learning. And no emotion, no decision.
In short: learning can take place anywhere except in an emotional vacuum. Like our sad little friend here.
Similarly, leadership cannot take place in an emotional vacuum. One can extrapolate and say life itself cannot take place in an emotional vacuum – and while that is true, it is also well beyond the scope of this blog!
So trainers and leaders, you can forget the fiction that the ideal student/employee/follower would be someone as purely rational as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. And you can also set aside the idea that all someone needs to be persuaded of your point of view is the right information.
How does one approach training, speaking, and leadership from the starting point of others’ emotional needs? Do not fear: there is a process you can follow. The practical steps in that process are the subject of subsequent posts.
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