The Art and Science of Influence

Professor David Purdy shares his thoughts on how emotions drive human behavior.

David Purdy, 11.01.2018

‘I've learned that people will forget what you said, and forget what you did, but never forget how you made them feel.’

― Attributed to Maya Angelou

When I was working on my MBA in finance more than 30 years ago, I had a passion to become absolutely logical. I learned to love linear programing and efficient market theory. Master your mind, earn a place in a rational market. Truth was, my love of logic came from the fear that my classical music background would undercut my credibility.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that the passion I have for music has a critical role to play in business as well. To me, music is emotion that we can hear. And -- to a very great extent -- emotions drive human behavior. But if you doubt Maya Angelou’s assertion about the primacy of feeling, read on. Both ancient wisdom and modern science powerfully illustrate the importance of emotions and how they can help us influence others. 

There are two best-selling books on persuasion that stand above all others. As it turns out, one was written by Aristotle almost 2 1/2 millennia ago, Rhetoric, and the other in 1984 by persuasion guru Dr. Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. While each offers multifaceted models for successful persuasion, what they agree on wholeheartedly is the power of shared emotion. 

Now if you’re like I was, working with emotions is a scary thought. However, it turns out we have no choice. Over the last 20 years or so scientists have discovered that emotions are a critical part of how we think. As author and professor Yuval Noah Harari reports, 'Feelings aren’t the opposite of rationality; they’re evolutionary rationality made flesh.' The great neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran discovered that patients with impaired emotional centers lost the capacity for rational thought.  It turns out we need to feel in order to think. As such, working with emotions is not just a way to influence and persuade, it’s a way to take all our humanity to the work we do.

It’s a great time to study this discipline. Don’t wait as long as I did! I look forward to working with you to explore this fascinating topic!

David Purdy is Clinical Assistant Professor of Management Communication at New York University Stern School of Business. Aalto EE's Advanced Management programs are designed for senior executives with extensive managerial and leadership experience. Read more about the programs.

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