Connect Emotionally to Drive Understanding and Action
Presenting yourself in a professional manner drives respect and helps all participants in business interactions know how to behave, and how to expect to be treated by others. But sometimes “professional” gets confused with robotic and the human element is lost.
The less we connect with others (potential customers, current clients, coworkers, supervisors and investors) on a human level, the less opportunity we have to understand their needs and make a memorable impression.
Emotional connection carries the day
The authors of the best-selling book, The Inspiring Leader, analyzed 360-degree survey data on 25,000 leaders to figure out what enables some people to persuade and motivate others. The secret ingredient was their ability to connect emotionally. While facts and data are important to spur our thinking, emotions cause us to act.
“It is emotion that allows you to mark things as good, bad or indifferent,” explains Antonio Damasio, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California and author of Self Comes to Mind, speaking at The Aspen Institute. If you cannot conjure up that emotional lift for a given situation, he says, it becomes nearly impossible to make decisions.
While no one is looking for colleagues who over share or leaders for whom every day is an emotional roller coaster, making the effort to connect on a human level helps people feel understood and valued and makes them more willing to open up to new information.
Working with people
It sounds obvious that behind every title or functional role is a real person, but far too often we act as if showing up for work turns us into machines. This can be an especially common pitfall in the B2B space where we get the idea that one business is actually communicating with another business. But those companies are staffed and run by real people.
Seeing business associates as human beings first can help you forge emotional connections that can dramatically improve the quality of your communication, one-on-one or in a formal presentation. Here’s how to get started.
- Tune into the other person’s problem. There is nothing more valuable to you as a business owner or corporate leader than knowing the pain points of those you serve. Still, it’s easy to get so excited about solving problems that we talk more than listen. It’s a mistake. Discipline yourself to listen fully, paraphrase what you’ve heard to demonstrate understanding and only then move on to how you can help.
- Use “you” language. Try recording yourself on Zoom or in another setting to see how often you say “I” compared to “you.” Even a subtle shift in wording such as, “Today, you are going to hear about . . .” conveys a very different message than, “Today, I am going to tell you . . .”
- Be real. There’s no need to air dirty laundry or share every failing you’ve ever experienced, but if you present yourself as you genuinely are, others will be drawn in and often reciprocate. There is a certain quid pro quo that happens in conversations where we mirror the level of candor shared with us. In coaching a direct report, you might share a challenge you encountered in your career. In talking with a prospective customer, share how you see your business being most helpful to them, as well as where they might be better served by another vendor.
- Tell a story. Our brains are particularly wired to respond to and remember stories much more than reams of facts and figures. “Data is important, but it often isn’t very compelling,” says Karen Eber, a culture transformation expert whose TED talk on storytelling has more than 1.6 million views. “By pairing your data with storytelling, you can create empathy and inspire action.” Stories engage us in a sort of artificial reality that makes us feel almost like we’re living the experience too. As we empathize with the storyteller, we also find them more trustworthy.
- Show your enthusiasm. Sometimes, we tamp down genuine excitement in an effort to appear more businesslike or to make sure we’re adequately exploring downsides. But giving yourself a little leeway to be human can also make you more relatable. Share what actually excites you about the topic at hand. That can be contagious.
- Make eye contact. It’s standard but powerful. On stage or sitting across the table in a one-on-one, look at people as you make your points. In a group, use the “piece-of-the-pie” strategy to look at different individuals as you deliver each idea. In a large venue, pay particular attention to the people furthest from you. In virtual presentations, look into the camera to give others the sense you are looking at them.
One or more of these techniques may resonate most to help you make stronger emotional connections in the workplace. But if you just remember one thing, start by seeing every business associate as a person first.