Trump is showing the world how emotional we really are.

Image credit: Wikimedia.

I remember the day I came to a slow realization that Trump would be the next President of the United States.

I sat halfway across the world, hitting ‘refresh’ every ten seconds on the New York Times’ election results page. I was working, but not really. I watched as Trump, presented by the media as an affront to everything I know and believe in, pull off an unlikely victory. It was a slow knife twist to the gut.

The pursuit of science and knowledge and the perfectly rational stuff. The pursuit of truth and facts. All that flushed down a toilet by a man with barely enough patience to write a tweet.

That moment showed me, whether you’re on the left or right end of the political spectrum, the prevalence of confirmation bias. That our shallow rationalizations are a cover for our identity and the unshakable emotional attachments we have to our past investments.

The second moment that taught me a hard lesson was when a news story published by my company on another company led to a backlash. The pitchforks came out on social media.

That led to another important lesson about emotion: perception matters as much as the truth. Two journalists write the same controversial story. One is a jerk. The other a saint. Guess who comes out unscathed? The saint.

People take cognitive shortcuts all the time. They’re overwhelmed by information. Forced to make snap judgments, people use any small cue, rightly or wrongly, to form impressions of you.

This is especially true in shallow business relationships, be it between a first-time customer and a business, a date and you, or a journalist and a reader. Don’t give people even the slightest reason to take offense (except the things you can’t compromise on) if you want to win them over to you, especially if they don’t know you well.

I learned about the idea of “positioning” from the eponymously-named marketing book. Basically, once your brand occupies a certain positioning in a customer’s mind, it stays fixed there (Darlie and toothpaste, Nike and sports shoes, for example).

If a person’s first encounter with you is negative, it’ll take a great deal of work to scrub that stain off the mental picture.

The world is run by emotions. It’s true that the ability to make rational decisions is important for personal success.

But stocks rise and fall based on fear. Stories go viral based on the emotions they conjure. Presidents are elected based on how they look. Trillions of decisions are made each day based on how they make us feel.

Therefore, an important skill to master, besides raw IQ, is understanding and reacting to emotions. Yours and others. It’s formulating plans and acting in a way that appeals not only to reason but emotion.

We don’t live in an emotionless vacuum.