Using Hearts to Engage Minds


Fear. Anger. Excitement. Relief. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s safe to say that this presidential election brought emotions to the forefront. While we reflect on the circumstances, actions, and results of the last few months, I can’t help but observe the powerful role emotions play in our decision-making.

Simply put, emotion overpowers logic.

This is not a new concept. Research of the last few years argues that emotions play a central role in decision making, for better or worse. Emotions are not particularly sophisticated or precise, but they are effective in determining our actions.

This phenomenon seemed prevalent during our presidential election. Review the conversations, the online interaction, and the banter you witnessed; I’d be willing to bet that 99% of that focused on an emotional reaction to either candidate – often a visceral reaction – not the actual policy proposals and potential impacts. So, when all those people went to the polls, were they voting with their hearts or their minds?

Finding Emotional Connections

This is profoundly relevant for communication in the public sector. More often than not, when governments share information about a new project or program, a change in process, or an accomplishment, we focus on the logical: money saved; street miles paved; tons of material recycled; etc.

With the onset of performance metrics, we can even quantify these benefits. We can provide concrete numbers that demonstrate our progress and improvements.

But here’s the problem, logic doesn’t stick. Emotion does.

Our job is to translate the dry data of government operations into a narrative that appeals to residents’ heads and hearts; to help people understand the importance and relevance of the services we provide, or want to provide in the future. Here’s how:

  1. Create a clear and viable vision of the impact your services have on your community and the individuals that live there.
  2. When proposing new investments, make the need to change real. Do not just provide data, tell the stories behind the data.
  3. Keep communication simple and heartfelt. Look to align your messages with people’s feelings and speak to their concerns.

For example, which is more compelling:

We are installing buffered bike lanes, raised sidewalks, and a left turn lane near the elementary school.


Our kids deserve to feel safe when biking or walking to school and right now, they don’t. Simple improvements to the street can significantly reduce the risk of some one getting hurt.

The Heart and the Head 

Now, I’m not advocating that we turn local governance into a pool of emotional rhetoric without substance. Quite the opposite. I believe by appealing to emotions we can better engage residents IN the substance. By focusing on what matters to citizens, we can pique their interest and encourage collaborative, impactful, and maybe even logical solutions.

Kim Newcomer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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