The Power of Making People Experience

Objects as the simplest means to create emotions.

When it comes to understanding the influence we can have on our fellow human beings, there is a dominant framework that continues to thrive.

It is to believe that by changing the other’s thinking, by reasoning them, we can succeed in influencing them. Our culture of dialogue and good speech actively promotes this capacity of words to change people’s mind.

Yet, what I have consistently realized is that no one really follows this principle. When it comes to changing other people’s opinion, we usually neglect their thoughts, and we instead address their mind with more effective ways.

All our new technologies (media, platforms and service interfaces) but also our oldest institutions, whether cultural, social, political or of any other kind, are based on the same and unique technique: playing on the disposition of people- i.e a particular place, time, the presence of an object or a particular person - to put them in the right conditions for the experience we want them to live.

All you have to do is go to a museum. In a museum, it is never really a question of making the person think, of stimulating dialogue. What it consists exclusively is, in fact, to put the visitor in a specific psychological and physical condition by arranging items, exhibits and other works of arts in a certain order.

And still, the strange thing is, when it comes to use this trick as a personal mean to persuade, it’s as if we are forgetting all about it.

This observation has made me gradually wondered about the emotional effect of objects on our minds and decisions. Let me explore with you this magic trick, its understanding and how it works for us: the power of making people feel something truly special.

How People Generally Persuade

Have you ever tried to persuade someone just with your words? To convince him of an idea by your speech, to describe clearly the challenge of his situation, to inform him of the results of his actions, but all in vain?

In such cases, you certainly proceeded like this:

You tried to reason him by giving the right arguments and advice that should convince him to believe you.

What you wanted to do is encourage him to reason, to make a reasonable and well-considered choice. So, you wanted to be as clear as possible to him, make him conceive easily the situation, the path to follow, without him having the effort to imagine it.

But in the end the results are not what has been expected: instead of convincing him definitively, you have plunged him into indecision; instead of making him hurry, you lost his attention; instead of following and applying your advice, he has no more motivation to act.

How is that possible?

What happens is that you tried directly to suggest a decision to him, assuming that with your words you could make him represent as clearly as possible such a decision, so that he follows it.

But that way you can only lead him to conceive and think, rather than to experience the problem by himself. You take away his ability to really feel the issue he’s confronted to.

In short, you probably have succeeded very well in making him understand the idea of his problem, but without succeeding in evoking it and living the challenge at stakes, which is often a source of action. The result: you have made him think without making him act.

Thoughts Without Things

A natural attitude we have when talking to someone is to try to make our thoughts identify with the thoughts of the person we are talking to. We try to make our ideas and intentions clear to others and to our own thoughts.

The problem is that when it comes to leading someone down one specific path, addressing the person’s thoughts is more damaging than useful to our demonstration. One reason is that it encourages them to intellectually conceive what they should feel in their action and decision-making.

We wrongly give more priority to the person’s thought than to the thing itself that we would like him to do. Thus, by making him think, we cut him off from that thing.

And the more this mistake continues, the further away he is from the principle that drives his attention and motivation to act.

What is this principle? To feel the issue he’s dealing with.

You should be able to make someone feel the emotion of the problem, its pain and difficulty one should suffer from, because that is what puts us on motion (literally, as the word e-motions suggests). You should insist on the emotional points of the situation, to get full attention on the things rather than on the thoughts.

But emotion can’t be obviously communicated directly. To change someone’s dispositions, it needs to be communicated indirectly.

The Power of Associations

People as varied as marketers, copy-writers, storyteller and politicians of all ages have understood one thing when it comes to making people act: you have to evoke indirectly in the mind the images of the things you would like someone to do.

It is the power of associations, the power to put the mind in condition and in mood by a roundabout way, what Robert Cialdini in his last book also calls Pre-suasion (persuading by conditioning before negotiating).

It is about presenting an image, word or idea to the mind that will work in the background and direct thoughts in a particular direction. This mechanism of association is so subtle that it exceeds conscious attention, and that is precisely its strength.

By escaping the attention of thought, associations directly trigger emotions and model deep intentions and dispositions. In this way, the influence produced by associations push for resolution and action rather than reflection and indecision.

But can’t we call that manipulation? Isn’t it leading someone against his own will? Not as long as the associations lead to the concrete experience of an object.

The Objects’ Presence

The fascination that objects produce on us seems obvious, but it has often been overlooked by our fascination with words.

In fact, objects produce in us a primary feeling of curiosity and wonder for them. When we are in the presence of objects, we are easily under the influence of their demonstrative power, which gives us a sentiment of authenticity and truth towards them (hence the importance of relics, books and objects of worship in religions).

With their real and concrete evidence, we cannot ignore their presence when it appears before us. When, for example, a particular problem is manifested by an object, it usually receives all our attention. When also an idea or decision is advocated by showing an object as evidence, it gains all the more persuasive power.

What is strange though is that objects doesn’t really need to be present in front of us. It can be enough for them to be reminded by associations to make an effect on us. If I say that the weather will be fine tomorrow, I don’t need to see the sunlight to feel the joy of a beautiful day ahead and the bright images to expect.

That’s where the power of associations applies, because it is linked to the presence of the object. Suggesting objects through an image, a word, a sound brings a whole new chain of thought and emotions into a person’s mind. It speaks directly to the human heart of decisions.

With the help of associations, the use of objects for influence purposes seems consequently to be full of possibilities.

Making People Experience Things Through Objects

To lead people, the first thing that comes in our mind is the use of words, of storytelling and of authority. But the use of objects can also be very valuable, by really making someone experience something special.

We should try to learn the subtle art of enhancing them to create emotions in people.

In a world where digital interfaces and medias dominate our perception of things, every brand, company, individuals and organization would gain a considerable advantage in creating, collecting and displaying remarkable objects.

We should all tell stories that involves objects having a strong symbolic meaning, creating an imaginary world based on them. We should all own our museum and gallery of things that attracts the eye, distracts the ear and touches the heart.

That way we can deepen the meaning of our words, values and actions. That way we can get in people's mind and have the real means to inspire them.

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Jean-marc Buchert

Jean-marc Buchert

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