One of the biggest blockers to effective influence are emotions. Whilst the power of emotion in negotiation and sales is well documented and, in many circumstances, an essential element in effective behaviour change. At times, emotions can cloud our judgement and render our communications ineffective or even dangerous.

At Applied Influence Group, we refer to the phenomena of being overloaded by emotion as being “emotionally hijacked”.  In the simplest of terms this is the feeling you get when you are consumed by the emotion that you feel to the extent where all your current cognitive capacity focuses on dealing with that emotional state. This is a normal reaction and one which is rooted in our evolution as your brain is trying to remove you from what it has determined is a threat.  The slightly unhelpful bit, is the fact that when dealing with that emotion we make a subconscious trade off with our cognition, rendering some of us without the capacity to take on board new information.  

In my previous life as a leadership instructor at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell, the phenomena of being emotionally hijacked was something that we needed our future leaders to experience to increase their tolerance and eventually develop an ability to release themselves from an emotional overload and regain capacity. At Applied Influence Group, we want our elite practitioners to do the same, but we also want them to do something else, and that something is to be able to recognise somebody who is being hijacked and remove them from that state.  In relation to forging an environment for mutually beneficial influence to take place, it's essential that both the influencer and the individual being influenced are in a balanced state of mind.

So, when the influence campaign you are working on generates an emotional reaction within the intended target, what is a quick and easy way to reduce the impact of a hijack? There is one simple and effective tactic you can try, hit them (metaphorically) with a question.

The question in the title is one that was used to great effect on me. Having been on the receiving end of military leadership training I have had to go through the process of increasing my tolerance to emotional hijacking in stressful situations.  There are several ways to artificially create a challenging environment that reflects the complexities of military operations.  One such way (and I am being serious here) is to embark on adventurous training.  In my example, it was a skiing expedition. I am a terrible skier, but I am also very susceptible to the power of social proof.  Social proof is the compulsion we sometimes feel to do something when the rest of the group does something that we may not feel totally comfortable with, and in my case this was the group decision to attempt a nasty looking black run.  I won’t provide you with the details of what happened next but the end state was an individual, me, clinging to what can only be described as a sheer cliff face (think the Wall of the North from Game of Thrones), with no skis, no poles and an utter lack of capacity.

I can admit it now (at the time I attempted to style it out) but I was emotionally hijacked.  Luckily for me the instructor had identified this and embarked on a mission to give me cognitive capacity back. He achieved this quickly and effectively by asking me a question; “what did you have for lunch?”  By asking me that simple question, one that I wasn’t really expecting, the instructor crucially forced me to think, and then answer.  It was that question that eventually allowed me to listen to further instruction and eventually navigate the perilous 25cm back to the ground, locate my skis and then gingerly snow-plough to the bottom of the run.

Upon reflection, it was the simple question that was the catalyst to managing my emotions and it is something that I have taken into my work when leading people.  So, if you can recognise somebody who is in this state, a simple question could be all you need to start the process of giving cognitive capacity back to that person.

The article below provides an additional perspective on the effects of becoming emotionally hijacked.