Emotional naming

One of the most powerful things you can do in a conversation is to name the problem. And if you use sophisticated terms and catchy, imaginative sentences, even better. 

At the beginning of the pandemic the UK government referred to behavioural fatigue to delay their approval of social distancing measures. The idea was that if social distancing was imposed too early, people would get fed up and not comply with it. Despite an open letter from a group of behavioural scientists complaining about the government’s misuse of the term, the idea got some traction. 

In a complex world where everything changes on regular bases we crave information in encapsulated form that make sense to our brains. And the way it all makes sense is through the emotions. 

The neurologist Antonio Damasio famously researched the case of a patient with a damaged frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain that affects the emotions. The patient, Elliot, could understand and function logically but he could not feel emotions. As a consequence he couldn’t make decisions. Elliot could agonise the whole afternoon over how to categorise his documents, still his IQ and mental ability was intact. 

As Damasio observed, when the emotions are impaired, so is decision-making.

We have different expressions to explain situations with feelings. Think about panic shopping or Zoom exhaustion. Bringing emotions into the description of a situation helps us to understand and relate to it in a clear way, and eventually helps us to decide not to buy 15 hand sanitisers the next time we venture into the supermarket. 

When telling a story the emotions aren’t just an accessory: they are the core. Without them, people will not make sense of what you’re trying to say. When you include emotions in your story you help people make decisions. Feeling your own story first is the best way of telling it later.