Emotions are the fundamental drivers of the decisions we make. We’re drawn to what we like, we avoid what we don’t like, and then we explain and justify those choices with reason and logic.
We can’t succeed at selling without understanding the essential role emotions play in connecting with people and influencing their actions.
Emotions work in concert with our rational brain, assigning values to everything we encounter — people, objects, and situations. And quite frequently we’re not even aware of those feelings.
Gut feelings provide us with important instinctual cues that help us know what we favor and what we don’t. They act as decision-making shortcuts so we’re not slowed down consciously calculating the complex hodgepodge of pro and con details.
Every choice we make, from getting on the right bus to which college we attend, involves both the logical and emotional networks in the brain.
When the emotional brain isn’t working in sync with our logical faculties, the decision-making process crashes. Take this stunning example: A woman whose brain was damaged in an accident stands before the produce at the supermarket, frozen with fear and unable to choose which potatoes to buy for dinner.
She sees the different sizes, colors, shapes, names and prices in front of her, but she has no cue (or clue) which type to choose. Later, back home in her kitchen, she’s again paralyzed looking into the refrigerator and facing the impossible task of deciding what to make for dinner. Nothing motivates her because she has no way to value one choice over another.
From Potatoes to People
Communicating with others too, depends on emotional input. Without the shortcuts from our emotional radar we can’t really tell what people are feeling or thinking.
Whatever the situation, from sales meetings to dinner conversations, the more fully we can tune-in, understand, and be in rapport with others, the more effectively we can influence them.
This ability to read and understand others’ emotional states is what we call empathy. It’s a complex capacity that reaches beyond sympathy and caring. Adam Smith, the father of modern economic theory, and no sentimental do-gooder, saw a complimentary relationship between self-interest and understanding others’ motivations.
Neuroscientists recognize multiple aspects of empathy. Cognitive empathy (or perspective taking) tells us how others feel and what they might be thinking. But even sociopaths, skilled at reading emotions and taking advantage of others’ sensitivities to gain the upper hand, can be masters of cognitive empathy. For real communication to take place, we need something more then simply knowing what people feel.
On top of cognitive empathy, emotional empathy (or affective empathy) lets us feel along with others, so we sense what they’re going through as part of our own experience. With both cognitive and emotional empathy, we’re able to establish a wholehearted connection with people. Aligned with their concerns, we can be a more genuine influence.
This ability to tune into others’ point of view – both cognitively and emotionally – lies at the heart of sales success.
When a sales prospect says, “Let me think about it,” they’re often saying, “I don’t feel comfortable having to make this choice. The thought of telling my long-time insurance guy that I’m changing agents just makes me feel too awkward.”
Empathy lets us see things from the prospect’s point of view, with understanding and emotional attunement, so we can communicate in collaborative language. Instead of coldly dismissing his hesitation with an easy quip–“Do you want an agent who’s looking out for your business interests, or a friend you can go golfing with?”—we’re able to connect genuinely in a framework of collaboration. Instead of opposing their point of view, we can both be on the same side of the table.