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Sharing Emotions is a Powerful Way to Communicate

Updated: Mar 3

At the beginning of every semester I tend to have a few students who are so nervous when they present that they make me feel nervous. Twice in the last week I have come across research that may explain why.

Emotions can be contagious. Research has found that anxious mothers inadvertently pass on their anxiety to their children. And it turns out you don’t even need to be in the same room as another person to transfer emotions. Studies have found social media posts can help emotions travel from one person to another.

Sharing emotions is a powerful way to communicate. However, when I survey my students and professionals, they contend they are more easily persuaded by logic than emotion. Prioritizing logic over emotion ignores what makes us human.

Let’s break down how this works:

1. You express an emotion when you communicate.

2. Your audience’s attention becomes focused in the same direction.

3. Your brain and your audience’s brain synchronize to create a similar psychological state.

4. Your audience processes the information in a similar manner as you.

This all happens really fast, before we have the chance to think about it.

The effects of emotional contagion extend far beyond workplace presentations. For a moment, consider the dominant emotions of those you interact with most (in person and online).

Emotions are reactions to external events and your internal thoughts. Other than choosing your environment, you can’t control external events, but you can control your internal thoughts. If you are excited to make a case for something you believe in, your audience is more likely to become excited. If you are anxious, your audience is more likely to feel anxious too. So, as you prepare your next presentation, think about how you want your audience to feel and then design verbal and nonverbal messages to convey those emotions.

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