Forest

Mood – it’s something we all take for granted. Does the person on the other end of the phone sound happy? Is the person you are chatting to in the meeting annoyed about something? Is the post on Twitter angry or ironic? What is said and what is meant are sometimes different things.

Deciphering the language of mood requires complex skills we learn from a young age and we continue to learn; no-one can say they understand the meaning and implications of everything that is said to them or they hear – there is always an element of doubt. It’s because we’re human, and we have an annoying habit of allowing our feelings to get in the way of reasoning and logic.

So, if we could put aside our emotion, cast away years of doubt, longing and our ego (yes, let’s be honest, we all have one), would interpreting ‘mood’ be easier? In theory, yes it would. It would be akin to finding a path out of an unknown forest equipped with a map showing the route, where emotion is the trees, the trails leading to a dead end and the thick bushes barring your path. Emotion and our emotional experience sometimes blurs the lines of true meaning.

Reading ‘mood’ is vital because it’s a fundamental part of conversation. If you can read someone’s state of mind, you can adapt to it, display empathy and a connection is made. Without the connection, the conversation will quickly run out, or escalate into an argument – both negative outcomes and both generally undesirable. This is particularly important in a business context. To make a connection is to start the sales process – we usually buy from people we ‘like’ or empathise with.

In a commercial setting, it’s clear that determining someone’s mood, finding a way to empathise with them, and suggesting a solution to their problem is the best way to start a sales process. That much is usually to be found on page 1 of any sales course, but what if we take the human out of the equation and use a computer – an algorithm? Doomed to failure? Surely, a human factor is required at some level? Possibly not…

By removing the human element, the fog of uncertainty will lift revealing the true contextual meaning of a statement, which naturally leads to a response designed to create empathy. By selecting from a pre-determined list of options, the intelligent software will also be able to decide on an appropriate service to offer, based on the initial statement (computers don’t forget, humans do). At this point a human touch may be required to ‘seal the deal’, but not always.

Add to this the fact that computers don’t sleep, don’t get ill, don’t have a hangover after a party, and never complain about their role as a computer, and you have the potential to interact with potential clients every second of every day.

The only remaining doubt is trust. By that I mean, we need to trust that the software is doing its job, is making the connections, building empathy and keeping the conversation going. Trust a computer? You do it every day. Email keeps you in touch with people, as does your smartphone. Your finances are controlled by bank computers, and you regularly put your life in the hands of the computer in your car, the railway network or a plane. In the future autonomous cars will drive us around, and it’s not far away – all car manufacturers currently have programmes designing ‘driverless’ cars.

By Professor Paul Morrissey, Sociomole