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How do you persuade someone else to accept your fabulous new idea, proposal or concept?

Have you ever been in a situation whereby you are really excited about your new idea or proposal – that you believe is going to revolutionise the way we think or do certain things? You speak enthusiastically about it. You draw up lots of models to support your idea. You have supporting arguments from other sources of data. You organise a presentation that will showcase your brilliant new concept.

And it falls completely flat. Your colleagues aren’t in the slightest bit impressed by your rhetoric and examples of how it could all work so brilliantly. They don’t buy it at all.

How could that be? How can they possibly refute all your careful arguments that put forward a compelling and convincing case for why they would accept your proposal?

Like any well prepared lawyer, the argument for the case has to be to make you believe that it is in your best interests and it is to your advantage to say yes. If you have ever watched the TV program “The Dragon’s Den”, wannabe entrepreneurs have to put forward a compelling case to persuade the Dragons that they would want to invest some of their money into their project to help launch it.

The ones that succeed are those who are able to show the Dragon’s the benefit it will provide to them, rather than what is the benefit to the rest of the planet.

It’s a case of “What’s In It for me?”

We tend to think our decisions and choices are made based on logic and analysis and sure we do engage our conscious thought in the process. What is often overlooked however is the fact that it is our subconscious thought, our emotions that actually determine the choices we make.

Antonio Damasio, neuroscientist studied the brains of people who had sustained brain damage to the area of the brain associated with the generation of emotion. His discovery was that in addition to not being able to experience their emotions as feelings they became unable to make decisions, even simple things such as deciding between two different foods to eat.

The impact of emotion on our decision making cannot be underestimated. It is important to understand also how some emotion is linked to financial loss.

Jennifer Lerner from Harvard Kennedy School of Governance and Yi Le and Elke Weber from Columbia University ran an experiment whereby induced sadness in subjects were seen to become more impatient and consequently made poorer financial decisions.

The reason for this is that they showed what is called “present bias” They chose to go with an earlier reward now rather than wait for a bigger prize in the future.

Have you ever found yourself upset and a bit snappy and being asked to make a choice? Chances are your sad mood makes you more shortsighted, more likely to choose the more immediate reward rather than wait for a bigger prize later on.

We make thousands of decisions every day, some more important than others. What is important is to recognise the impact of our emotion on the choices we make and if we preselect our mood, not only are we more likely to make better decisions, it may make a difference to our back pocket as well.


Antonio Damasio (1999). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace. 386pp. ISBN: 0156010755. 

J. S. Lerner, Y. Li, E. U. Weber. The Financial Costs of Sadness. Psychological Science, 2012; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612450302


Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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