The Carrot Blog

Most people believe that we make decisions quite rationally, simply using facts to arrive at an answer. While that may be true in some cases, we can agree that emotions are heavily involved in the process of making decisions as well. Some may even say that we make decisions primarily through emotions, and that’s true when it comes to certain contexts, like pitches and client meetings. All of this can be simplified by learning a little bit about our brains and how we think. Then you’ll be well on your way to becoming a certified BOSS, because if we look at how we make decisions, it’ll help us craft better stories to appeal to an audience of decision makers a.k.a clients.

Our brains are really awesome because they do all of the work (AND NEVER GET TIRED). They're a complex muscle that has components specialized in certain tasks. We need to understand how our brains work because no matter how great your story is, if you don't know how to best appeal to the way your audience thinks or makes decisions, then you probably won’t nail down a deal time after time.

So back to emotions. It's true, we do primarily use emotional queues to make decisions. In the field of psychology and cognitive science, this all falls under something called motivated reasoning. Motivated reasoning is an emotion-based decision-making process.

For our purposes, we’ll talk about two different types of cognitive functions that fall under motivated reasoning. The first are hot cognitions - the emotionally triggered decision making process that you do want to activate when you’re in the room with your clients. The second are cold cognitions. Cold cognitions involve any rational and logical processes, and they are exactly what we don’t want our audience to engage in during a presentation.

Hot cognitions are one of the most primal functions of our brain - they’re instinctual. They are triggered by tension and sustained by solutions. Tension often incites fear and solutions often come as an opportunity. There are different emotions that can be activated with tensions and solutions, but what’s most important is to have intention as you tell a story. This intention should be heavily driven by an awareness of your audience’s reaction to each component of your story.

This probably sounds more complicated than it is but we’re simply talking about instinct. Think about what reactions your behavior will trigger. Are you sounding needy? Well that’s going to activate a fear response because you’re signaling desperation. Is your rationale too complicated? That’s going to trigger cold cognitions, causing your audience to engage in analyzing your points and it will derail your nicely packaged story.

Taking advantage of how our basic human processes work is the foundation to effective communication. Of course, there are other factors that come into play when you’re presenting, like power dynamics and the effect of technology. Ultimately, the storyteller has the ability to counteract anything that may throw everything off given the storyteller understands how and why our brains react. So next time you’re starting to craft a story, by all means - be creative- but also Google a thing or two about cognition. You may end up with a better story and a better deal.


If you’re more interested in how cognition and selling ideas are related, check out Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal by Oren Klaff

To learn more about how you can improve as a professional by understanding neuroscience, check out the NeuroLeadership Institute