Oct 242011

Emotions rule

Entrepreneur – Let Emotion Be Your Friend

Let me start by saying that early in my life and career, I thought emotion was something to be avoided.  I grew up in an environment where nothing positive seemed to come out of showing or admitting to emotion.  It was frowned upon and generally avoided.  I have since learned how limiting such an approach is and how much it misses the unavoidable reality that most human behavior is driven by emotion and “feelings”.  Hopefully, if you’re not already up on this, I can give you some helpful ideas in this article that will allow you to use emotion to your advantage, rather than have it work against you.

Let me state a basic premise of this article, which at this point I take as fact:  like it or not, emotion will largely dictate your behavior and that of the people with whom you interact.  If someone can prove to me that this is not the case, I’d love to hear from you.  In the meantime, with that premise in mind, let’s dive into the issue of emotion and how it runs human behavior.

We have all heard the saying that people try to either “avoid pain or seek pleasure” in what they do.  This does provide a lot of insight into human behavior, but you need to dig deeper into emotion and feelings in order to understand the more specific behavioral drivers.  At some point, I intend to take you on a much deeper “tour” of human feelings and emotion, but for purposes of this article, we’re going to focus in on a few that tend to be very important for entrepreneurs.  In a previous article on the emotional reasons to be an entrepreneur, I focused in on esteem needs and purpose needs as key drivers of entrepreneurial behavior.  Here we will talk about a few very important feelings in the esteem category, which is perhaps the most important category when it comes to becoming a successful entrepreneur and using emotion to your advantage.

Before we talk further about esteem needs, let’s take a look at a definition of emotion:

“Any strong agitation of the feelings actuated by experiencing love, hate, fear, etc., and usually accompanied by certain physiological changes, as increased heartbeat or respiration, and often overt manifestation, as crying or shaking”. [Source: http://dictionary.reference.com]

I like this definition because it talks about a “strong agitation of feelings” and it mentions certain “physiological changes”.  This appeals to me, as I think it’s important to realize that emotion and feelings lead to physical manifestations, including the resulting actions we take.  Some of the manifestations are automatic, and for others, we have to make a conscious effort if we want to take control of them.  An analogy would be that breathing happens automatically (it’s “autonomic”), but we can take control of it with our minds, if we choose and make a deliberate effort to do so.  This has very interesting implications for us as entrepreneurs.  First, it tells us that although emotion may try to push us in a certain direction, if we make a deliberate effort, we can take control.  Second, it reminds us that all of our prospects, customers and other constituencies run on emotion too, so if we’re providing great products and services that make the right impact on them emotionally, we can intentionally push ourselves toward “top of mind”.

So, let’s talk about a few specific feelings in the esteem needs category.  We’ll focus in on four feelings, two positive and two negative: passionate, respected, frustrated, and disappointed.  If we are talking about managing our own emotions, passionate and respected would usually be considered the two positive feelings, and frustrated and disappointed would usually be considered the two negative feelings.  If we are passionate about something, generally we’re very engaged and willing to work hard, long hours on it, without much loss of energy.  If we feel respected, it helps us feel more confident and more able to make the right decisions and expect a positive outcome.  If we are frustrated or disappointed, we often feel “bad” and may feel like we have failed.  This state of mind can often cause us to second guess our decisions and even rethink what we’re doing at a higher level.  For example, we may even wonder if we’re “cut out for” being an entrepreneur.

If we are talking about the emotions of our clients or prospects, the implications may be the opposite of those discussed above, for at least three of the feelings.  For example, if a prospect already feels respected in their situation and as a result they feel “content,” there may not be much reason for them to seek our products or services.  Going back to the definition of emotion above, there may not be any “strong agitation of feelings” that leads the customer or prospect to take action.

If, on the other hand, the prospect or customer is frustrated or disappointed, hopefully more in general, not with our products or services, there may be plenty of “agitation” that will cause them to take action.  In other words, we could say, without emotion, and usually negative emotion, there typically is not significant motion, or action.  More simply, emotion leads to action.  It’s true for us and it’s true for our prospects.  It’s an important reality when you are trying to elicit or understand action, whether it’s yours or that of others!

You probably noticed that I left out one feeling when talking about others, and that was “passionate”.  The reality with passion is that it can go either way.  One can be either passionately positive, or passionately negative, depending on the situation.  It usually is accompanied by plenty of “agitation” though, so be on the lookout for passion as something that can either be very helpful or very harmful in what you’re trying to accomplish.

In order to wrap up, let’s take a step back and point out the obvious implications of the analogy to autonomic versus deliberate breathing:  these feelings will occur automatically, but if you are aware of them and willing to make a conscious effort, you can be in control.  For example, use frustration and disappointment as motivators, instead of letting them be “downers”.  Just this realization alone gives you so much freedom!  You do not have to be a prisoner or a passenger of your emotions; you can take control and drive!

Further, when you are trying to connect with others, including your prospects, you can try to do so on an emotional level, knowing that motion (action) starts with emotion.  There is no shortcut, and your attempts to connect with people on an emotional level must be sincere, but just as Aristotle’s “ethos, pathos and logos” indicates, once you make an emotional connection, it’s much more likely that your logic will be listened to.  That is worth repeating in a slightly different way:  if you go in with your logic without making an emotional connection first, you’re not likely to get anywhere, either with yourself or with others you seek to influence.

We only covered four of hundreds of feelings here, but we covered enough that you should now know to make emotions your friend.  Seek them.  Don’t shy away from them.  If you take this step, I assure you that you will be pleased with the results, both in your own esteem needs and in your ability to influence your key constituencies.  To paraphrase some lyrics from the Rolling Stones, as an entrepreneur, you need to learn to come to your own “emotional rescue”.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

Go to the right-hand navigation bar near the top of the page, enter your email and click subscribe.  We respect your privacy and will not sell your email address.  Note:  once you subscribe, if the confirmation email doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter.  It usually makes it through, but we’ve had a few get caught up in the filter.



  • Tisa

    Hi, Paul! I too grew up in an environment of learning to control my emotions. Perhaps I had a more positive experience, but I have often been in situations where I was so thankful for that training.

    I think you hit the nail on the head; don’t avoid the emotions, but channel them to help you push yourself further than you thought you could go and to do things that you didn’t believe were possible.

    I do have to admit frustration and disappointment have stopped me in my tracks, but I’m learning and hopefully I’m also teaching my two children to handle those feelings better than I have.

    Thanks for your insights; I look forward to your next post.

  • Hi, Tisa. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I too believe that the de facto childhood training related to controlling my emotions has served me very well in my life, and especially in my businesses. That said, I agree that it’s key not to avoid emotions, but rather seek to get them “on the table” and understand them. This can be valuable in a wide variety of situations! It’s not easy, and you will meet with a great deal of resistance, as people are very protective of their emotions. They build cocoons, as most people are afraid they will be hurt if they reveal their true feelings. Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your ideas. Paul

  • Pingback: Entrepreneur – Let Emotion Be Your Friend | Social media culture | Scoop.it()

  • Darleana

    Sounds like you and I grew up in similar households when it comes to emotion. In my household the display of emotions was considered “common” or otherwise low class. it is an important ingredient in marketing and decision making as you pointed out. Good article

  • Thanks, Darleana. Yes, emotion and feelings play a major role in effective marketing and decision making.

  • Pingback: Free to feel it all | Roots to Blossom()

  • Pingback: Business emotion | Beyondromance()

  • In general your advice are good. Those emotions if being use properly will turn out to be useful.