The Best Kept Secret Of Influence
Have you ever seen a manager jump on a new opportunity with blind enthusiasm and drag her team towards unchecked risks? Have you ever seen an executive react to a criticism by demolishing one by one the opposing arguments until he forgets his original point? We have all seen this.
Emotionally overreacting to positive or negative situations can seriously affect our leadership and influence. What can we do?
We all know that when we act instinctively, dragged by our emotional reflexes, we are NOT at our best: emotions are poor advisers of behavioral choices. We also know that it is not enough to simply tell ourselves to “stop doing it”: the whole issue is exactly that when emotions take control there is no way to stop, change course, or modify our behavior.
The well-known metaphor of “The Elephant and the Rider” is frequently used to represent this dilemma In this metaphor, the Elephant represents the power of our emotions, the Rider our rationality.
- When the two work together, life is good. The combination of the Elephant’s strength (i.e. passion, motivation, drive, empathy, integrity, love and joy) together with the Rider’s intelligence (i.e. clarity of vision, critical thinking, knowledge, expertise, problem solving, goal setting, process design and planning) creates perfect synergy.
- When they don’t work together, they often wreak havoc. If the Rider gets lazy and abdicates guidance, the Elephant can easily get distracted and deviate from the path (e.g. stop and indulge if offered a banana, whack people who annoy them, or run away when spooked by something unexpected), at which point the Rider has no chance to get the Elephant back on track. On the other side, if the Rider holds too tight control, the Elephant may unwillingly play along for a while, then drag its feet, and eventually knock off the Rider and run away.
The metaphor suggests that the Rider must be able to communicate a clear vision and a clear path, while staying alert (not lazy) and holding a loose control (not too tight), to keep him from getting distracted. Now, in order to communicate, the Rider and the Elephant need to have a clear language. The challenge is that the Language of Emotions is not (yet) taught in our western schools.
Our understanding of Emotions is very recent. In 1980, Prof. Robert Plutchik was the first scientist to suggest a classification of emotions; he identified a total of 32 distinct emotions. By the year 2015, Dr. Alan Watkins and his team had identified 32,000 distinct emotions. For less than about 1€ we can today access 2,000 of them by downloading the “Universe of Emotions” app.
How do we learn to use this language, and how can it serve us?
- First of all, in order to learn the Language of Emotions, we need to learn to identify the sensations that we experience and express them as feelings, taking full responsibility.
From “you make me feel bad” (generic impression and attribution to others)
To: “I feel surprised and sad about what you say” (specific identification and taking responsibility)
- Second, we need to practice “naming” the emotions; we can start with the simple Wheel of Emotions (Plutchik), and then gradually move to the more sophisticated analysis using the Universe of Emotions (Watkins).
- Once we are able to understand that we are creating our own sensations inside ourselves, as a response to something external, and we name them, we are able to “objectify them”. Emotions are no longer controlling us, we control them.
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- Metaphor originally proposed by Jonathan Haidt in “The Happiness Hypothesis”