How does an ad trigger a particular emotional response in people? Any marketer out there can probably give you an answer that is far better than any that I can give, but I’ll give it a go anyway: an ad triggers an emotional response with some sort of appeal. This could be an appeal to fear, humour, sex or any number of things.
But how do you trigger an emotional response in someone that is standing right in front of you? This is one that might have you a little stumped at first, not because it’s impossible to answer but because it’s normally an automatic process. Say you’re feeling happy – you’ve got a smile, you’re cheery, and some might say you have some ‘energy’ about you. People see this and, unless they’re feeling particularly cynical, they’ll likely become happier too. A smile can be contagious!
The same goes for negative emotions. If someone is hostile to you you’ll notice it in their tone, their stance, the language they use. Developments in neuroscience are revealing that when we face negativity and stress, a part of the brain called the amygdala is triggered. The amygdala is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ instinct – when it takes over, higher-order rational thinking is reduced and we become more reactive to situations. You’ll start to become hostile yourself.
In her article ‘Are You Open Minded?’, Ann Van Eron tells the story of a leader whose team were stressed to the point that some were leaving their jobs. It turned out that the leader’s negativity and stress were reflected in their team – by appearing less stressed around his team, their overall wellbeing was improved!
We all experience stress and anger at times – if anything the research also shows that it can be partially out of our control! However, ensuring that we don’t pass the negativity on to our team is important. A few weeks ago I wrote about Centeredness and Inspiration, which explains one way to take control of our emotions and situations. The important thing is to pass on positive emotions to your team, because we will react subconsciously to the emotions of those around us.
Leading a team might not be brain surgery, but understanding the brain can teach us a lot of lessons about how to become better leaders.