Emotional WordsUsing emotion when speaking may get a listener’s attention and make what you’re saying seem more compelling, but those short term gains have long term losses, according to research discussed in ScienceDigest.

Emotion helps us recognize words faster and more accurately but in the long term emotionally intoned language is not as accurately remembered compared to neutral speech. When the words are remembered they have an emotional value. For instance words spoken in a sad voice are remembered more negatively than those spoken in a neutral voice.

Emotion Helps Us Recognize Words Faster

If delivered with anger, sadness, exhilaration or fear, language has an urgency absent from normal even-tempered speech. Our language can become louder, softer, faster, delayed, melodic, erratic or monotonous, depending on our emotions. This captures the listener’s attention. But the long term effect?

Annett Schirmer and colleagues from the National University of Singapore studied 48 men and 48 women who listened to sadly and neutrally spoken words. They were later shown these words in a visual test. Subjects’ brain activity was measured to find for evidence of vocal emotional coding.

  • Participants had better word recognition when they had previously heard them in a neutral tone of voice compared to a sad one.
  • Words heard in a sad voice were remembered more negatively.
  • Women were more sensitive to the emotional elements than men, and more likely than men to remember the emotion in the speaker’s voice.

Schirmer and her team concluded,

  • Emotional voices change long-term memory while capturing the listener’s attention.
  • They influence how easily spoken words are later remembered and what emotions are assigned to them.
  • Voices, like other signs of emotion, impact listeners beyond the present.

It’s an old saying in sales that people decide to buy based on their gut feelings and use their brain to justify the decision. When making a pitch to your client, or the other party, what should be settlement terms, or whether a proposal is a reasonable one or not, emotional language may help you win the day.

But it’s critical that a successful settlement agreement be accurately spelled out when an agreement to settle is reached, the parties fully understand the proposal and agree to it. Especially after an emotionally charged negotiation or mediation, you don’t want to wait until later to make sure all the details are nailed down. This study shows that our memories can be impacted by emotional language and you risk having the parties remember very different versions of the same conversation.