The power of emotion

The power of emotion

2 minute read

People feel emotional about pensions. Our social networking tracking tool found that 55.2% of people tweeting about pensions feel sad, 7.3% feel angry and 3.9% feel scared.

And who can blame them? There is no one set path when people stop working, and it is a time when people feel vulnerable. Their health and energy levels may not be as good as they once were, and they won’t have the reassurance of ongoing employment and the income that brings.

Your emotions affect the decisions you make, far more than most people realise. The same part of the brain is responsible for emotion and decision-making. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio carried out research on people with brain damage that meant they could not feel emotion, and found they couldn’t make decisions either.

So what does this mean for pensions communications? It means that when we are talking to people about pensions we are talking to people who are feeling sad and anxious, and these feelings will affect the decisions they make. We can harness this knowledge and help reassure them by using more emotive language. 

When we want to influence how someone reacts to what we are saying, we adapt our tone of voice. The same is true in pensions communications. We can change the tone through the words we use. We work with pension schemes to develop guides to which words they should be using to help members achieve good outcomes.

Each pension scheme should think about the values it wants to be recognised for, and reflect that in how it communicates with members. For example, a trustee board may want to be viewed as “caring and knowledgeable”, which is how they would describe their tone of voice.

A caring and knowledgeable communicator would show empathy by using emotive language reflecting how their members might feel. They would show their knowledge by explaining technical concepts in simple, easy to understand, terms.

Are members feeling like they don’t have control? Tell them about the “choice” and “flexibility” they have in the scheme. Are they feeling worried about losing their money? Use day-to-day words that acknowledge their fears, and explain carefully the measures that are in place to keep them “secure”. Don’t create more confusion by using complex words and jargon, which will worry them more.  

You should use positive rather than negative language. You are more likely to inspire action by showing members the benefits they could reap if they do save than telling them the perils of not saving, which risks them becoming defeatist if they see the task as too hard.

Pension scheme members are people. They are scared and confused. The sooner we recognise that, the sooner we can communicate with them meaningfully and provide real support.

The power of emotion
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Laura MacPhee
Laura MacPhee
Laura advises a variety of clients on their engagement and stakeholder management strategies, and joined us from the Universities Superannuation Scheme, where she worked in the strategy and insight team.
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