Using emotional insight
for personal development and professional success

Is anybody listening?

I was asked to write an article for the NCVO's Campaigns Conference blog.  I wrote the following as a simple introduction to why Emotional Intelligence is so important to running and effective campaign of any kind, and a political campaign particularly.

Is anybody listening?

If you campaign isn’t Emotionally Intelligent, then no.

With the general election campaign gearing up we are seeing a vast increase in political communication.  But how much of this communication is effective?  Given the aim of it is presumably to make us go out and vote for our party or change allegiance to another, how often does it succeed?  In fact, how many of the words filling the airwaves, adverts, newspapers and blogs are even received, let alone acted upon?  The most common reaction to political communication at present seems to be a tired shrug, or an irritated closing of the ears.

We have all become adroit at shutting out messages we don’t wish to hear, or which make us uncomfortable.  Campaigns aimed at changing lifestyle behaviour or shifting opinions get lost in the background noise of society.  In fact, the ability to shut out this noise so you can form your own thoughts and opinions is a necessary skill for anyone living in the communication age.

Campaigners of all stripes face a significant and yet horribly simple problem – how to communicate, how to be heard, how to reach people.  If your message isn’t heard your campaign fails at the first hurdle.  We all have filters to keep information out.  If we still lived in a tribal culture of around one hundred individuals, then our instinct would be to listen carefully and consider all of the information that flowed our way.  But our virtual tribe – the number of people who wish to communicate with us – now reaches the tens of thousands.  Filters are necessary.

The filtering process we use is sophisticated in outcome yet astonishingly simple: we listen to what feels right.  Above all we trust our gut reaction to decide which information is relevant, honest and in our interests.  The unconscious processes involved in creating this momentary feeling are incredibly complex, taking account of our experiences, values and above all the intent behind the communication.  Put simply, if crudely, we all possess an incredibly sophisticated bullshit detector.  Campaigners, politicians, anyone who wishes to influence the decision making of the public, ignores this at their peril.

As we become more media savvy we are learning to see through the sound bites, media campaigns and interview techniques used by those who want us to think differently.  The welcome fact is that deception is becoming less effective, spin and manipulation is being filtered out, and sincerity may become the only thing that gets a message across.  Campaigns must be understood in this context if they are to be effective.  The quality of an individual possesses that makes them trustworthy, able to communicate with us, and able to form a meaningful, powerful, relationships, is called emotional intelligence.  This same quality must be found in campaigns and communications if they are to be successful.

An emotionally intelligent campaign acknowledges the way individuals filter information and make decisions.  This is largely not an analytic, intellectual, process – it is a subconscious, intuitive, process.  Effective communication must feel right to the person who receives it.  Firstly it must strike them as being sincere – heart felt, ideally – secondly it must feel relevant; that it relates to their world, their experience, and their values.  We instinctively respond positively to those people around us we feel are open hearted and demonstrate integrity.  We judge communication and campaigns in the same way.

Here’s a simple thought experiment: two friends approach you wanting to borrow money.  The first speaks eloquently, giving facts and figures that express clearly why he should borrow your money, yet throughout you suspect these are not his own words and someone else has helped write his argument.  The second speaks from the heart, his request is simple, direct and, although not always eloquent, you recognise his own thoughts and feelings being expressed.  Which friend would you lend your money to?  So which politician will you vote for?

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