Emotions needed in business communication
A video analysis by researcher Timo Vuori revealed why employees are often left with only a vague or non-existent picture of a company’s new strategy. The experienced change coach gets his message across by drawing on people’s emotions – not by providing rational arguments.
− The field’s research has thus far focused on what is said, although it is often far more significant how it is said and how the listeners of the message feel, notes Timo Vuori, MSc, an Aalto University researcher who has written a dissertation on the topic.
Company strategy researchers have written numerous publications on how a company’s new strategy can be brought from words to actions. The key question is; how can we get the organisation’s members to think and act in a new way? Research efforts have yet to help company management. In practice, change communication to personnel is very rarely successful.
A video camera was most important tool in Mr. Vuori’s dissertation research. He analysed an experienced change coach, who had been assigned the task of getting employees to commit to a company’s new strategy that emphasised service quality. A total of 15 hours of footage showing both the speaker and the audience was filmed over the course of the three day coaching seminar. Mr. Vuori studied the material minute by minute, documenting the content of the coach’s speech, the emotional cues the coach conveyed and the reactions of the audience.
− Initially, the speaker aroused the audience’s emotions with a joke or a story about his mother. The video shows how the entire audience laughs at this. Once the audience’s emotions had been aroused and brought to the surface the speaker told his/her actual point. The emotions the listeners had felt were then associated with the work related issue. Finally, this point was reiterated, and the listeners were asked for confirmation, Mr. Vuori explains.
The analysis revealed a method that the coach repeated in his presentation approximately every 5 minutes through the entire seminar. On the basis of the results of this analysis, Mr. Vuori developed a process model of the speaker’s manner of associating emotions with the message.
− This is the first model that has included emotions, Mr. Vuori explains.
The coach’s method proved to be an effective one. Participants recalled the content of the emotion filled seminar for a long time. Emotions clearly helped employees adopt the company’s new strategy. In his dissertation, Mr. Vuori recognised that arousal of emotional intensity played an important role in the process of creating meaning.
− When attempting to change people’s mental models, in addition to giving them the information content they should be driven to experience strong emotions that enforce the message. Gaining an understanding is not enough, information content must be felt.
Mr. Vuori’s dissertation often references Neurologist Antonio Damasio’s research in rational decision-making. In his non-fiction work Descartes’ Error, which rose to the top of the bestseller list, Dr. Damasio explains why a person is unable to make rational decisions without employing emotions. Mr. Vuori wants to initiate a similar change in the research of business management.
− I want to develop theories that take into account subconscious emotion processes. And I want to be one of the world's leading researchers in this."
The journey has already progressed to a good start. Timo Vuori’s wife Natalia Vuori is his colleague in research. This autumn, the research duo was granted a total of three postgraduate student awards at the Academy of Management Conference; the year’s most important management industry conference.
The process theory described in the dissertation can be applied to any form of change communication. The couple used it successfully at their own wedding. The emotions of guests were aroused with weighted music and lighting. The children in attendance cried a bit.
− After this, once the actual ceremony began everyone was very emotional. Even the adults cried, Timo Vuori recalls.
Timo Vuori, researcher
Department of Industrial Engineering and Management
Tel. +358 50 4105 731
timo.vuori [at] aalto [dot] fi
Timo Vuori’s Doctoral Dissertation “Emotional Sensegiving”: http://otalib.aalto.fi/en/collections/e-publications/dissertations/
Timo and Natalia Vuori’s research in strategy cognition: www.strategycognition.com