Brain power

Business thrives when we find emotional matches

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

While emotional intelligence has become an increasingly relevant and important factor at work, there is still a sense that it has no real place in serious business interactions.  A new study1 from Vanderbilt University reminds us of the folly of such thinking.  It suggests that the most successful business interactions emerge when both parties have similar emotional abilities.

The researchers examined how deep interpersonal similarities in areas such as eye contact and expressiveness of speech, have a profound impact on business relationships.  The problems arise when there is a clear disconnect between both parties.

“We found that two people with low emotional ability interacting with each other are equally as successful as two people with high emotional ability,” the researchers say. “Disparate levels of emotional ability can lead a client to feel uncomfortable with what he or she considers too much or too little use of emotion in communication.”

The researchers highlight previous work that suggests people with high emotional intelligence are able to fine-tune their emotional expressions to match those of the other party.  They now believe this might not actually be the case.

Mixed emotions

Instead, when emotional abilities are mismatched, it can be very detrimental to the effectiveness of the interactions between two parties.

“The problem is that for somebody who is lower in emotional ability interacting with somebody who’s higher in emotional ability, they both end up feeling invalidated because their communication needs are not matching up,” the researchers explain.

The importance of emotional ability similarity can be found at all levels of interactions, whether that’s interacting with customers, or even among colleagues, flatmates or romantic partners.

“When you can’t see someone, such as when talking on the phone or emailing, you can’t read a person’s emotions,” the authors continue. “So the gains received from having emotional chemistry or being a match in terms of emotional ability are diminished.”

The findings emerged across a number of experiments that aimed to explore the impact emotional ability similarity had on a range of interactions in a business context.  For instance, a longitudinal field study was undertaken featuring salespeople from a real estate firm.  The study highlighted the importance of the salespeople having similar emotional ability to their customers.

This was then followed up by a lab experiment where participants were paired with those with both similar and dissimilar emotional abilities. Once again, similar results emerged, as those with similar abilities were better able to exchange nonverbal communication with their partner, and therefore had more satisfactory experiences.

Article source: Business Thrives When We Find Emotional Matches.


  1. Kidwell, B., Lopez-Kidwell, V., Blocker, C., & Mas, E. M. (2020). Birds of a feather feel together: Emotional ability similarity in consumer interactions. Journal of Consumer Research, 47(2), 215-236.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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