Aren’t café conversations interesting? I don’t mean the ones you are involved in, I mean the ones you have to listen to whether you want to or not. I was forced to listen to a passionate argument that denounced global warming as a myth while I was trying to have a calming Chai Latté recently.
Now I must confess that I am a bit ambivalent about Global Warming myself, just when I think I have it down pat, along comes another scientist who confuses me all over again. However, when I was overhearing this vehement outburst it occurred to me that there is a definite downside to being a communication trainer! Rather than get myself involved in the theory being so passionately espoused I found myself analysing the emotional tools that the speaker was using.
So I thought I might spend a little time this morning in discussing ways in which a speaker can manipulate our emotions to attain their goals. So if you were involved in a dramatic conversation outlining the conspiracy of global warming in a café in the northern suburbs recently – this is for you!
Using emotion to influence our audience’s feelings and thus their views on a subject is not always wrong. Feeling passionate about a subject, such as some injustice is to be commended, but it is of more value to the cause to channel that passion into considered arguments and sound reasoning presented in a persuasive way. To rouse the listener’s emotion may be necessary to move people to think for themselves.
Some of the emotions which people can appeal to are:
1. Love – love is an emotion of care and concern. By appealing to our love of children, our family or our nation skilful speakers can sway people to think or act in a way which may not be in their best interest. Their emotion has replaced reason. I was taught early on that if the speaker is using emotional arguments rather than reason and logic, it is probable that there is little reason or logic to support their emotional argument.
So when you find your emotions stirred by traumatic sights or descriptions designed to cause you to act in a certain way ask yourself “What is the reason for this?” If you can find the reason and if you understand it and find it logical then you know that you are being persuaded rather than manipulated. If not ….
2. Tradition – tradition is often an appeal to the older audiences. ‘Rose coloured glasses’ is a phenomenon which may affect them, the sense that ‘things were better in my childhood’. Speakers can appeal to that sense of lost utopia to create a specific emotion in these audiences.
3. Fashionable – Are you under thirty? Do you like to be thought of as being modern or fashionable? If so, then an emotional appeal designed to convince you that this point of view or action is modern and only those who are ‘old fashioned’ would ever disagree is bound to appeal to your emotions. The question for you to ask is “It may be modern, but is it reasonable?”
4. Vanity – It doesn’t matter who we are, if someone flatters us we can be easily influenced to be more open to their arguments. These appeals can be very subtle and difficult to detect, but if you hear something like “All intelligent people agree” you know that the speaker is insinuating that of course you would be one those intelligent people who would agree. “We modern thinkers …” is another to look out for. If we are truly intelligent we would be looking for the facts and figures to support the arguments.
5. Conformity – It takes a brave person to stand apart from the crowd; it can be very uncomfortable to be the odd one out. So to be told that “everyone knows ….” Or “everybody agrees that …” can make us wonder what’s wrong with us if we disagree! But the idea that there are some commonly shared ideas is not true; and good speakers tend to avoid such statements which can be easily overturned by some brave soul saying “Well I don’t agree” So if you find yourself disagreeing with someone who tries to appeal to our desire to conform just remember you are the one that proves their argument wrong.
6. Self Interest – this is a very strong motivational force as every politician understands. We are often being told to look at a proposition and ask ourselves “What’s in it for me?” and to judge the value of the argument by the answer. But sometimes we need to look beyond the WIIFM syndrome, and challenge the basic assumptions being made by an appeal to logic and reason.
It is perfectly understandable that people will try to tap into our emotional response when they argue their case. Our emotional reaction is often essential for us to change our minds, or to act on the information. But emotion should never overwhelm reason. We need to be objective about emotional topics if we are to come to a realistic appraisal of what we are being told.
All intelligent people know that!