The 6 basic emotions of a human being in retail

Aug 30, 18 | by Benoit Mahé

For many years it was thought that the expression of emotions varied from country to country, as did facial expressions. IN 1972, the American psychologist Paul Ekman proved that members of the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea made the same facial expressions when they looked at people from the outside world as did others.

Each of the 6 basic emotions was shown in facial expressions that could be said to be universal. A Spaniard, a French person, an American and native Papua New Guinea all used and interpreted them in the same way. As part of our attempt to nurture emotions taht foster store transactions -and which may result in a very special purchase experience- lets analyze the 6 basic emotions.

  • Happiness : Happiness and joy is contagious, just as it was with my baker. It creates optimism (something which in commerce is essential). It is also the result of a decision. Given an identical reality, a person can decide to go through the day happily or not.


  • Anger : Anger stems from feeling that we have been offended. It creates frustration. We look to blame someone. For example, we can see how inter-personal conflict in retail with colleagues or superior can fuel a sense of anger. As customers, we can feel and perceive inter-personal conflict. Desactivating this conflict requires an emotional and a decision making-process.


  • Surprise : Surprise is neutral and brief. The retail trade, by definition, offers an incessant flow of customers, as well as a stream of surprises troughout the day. Mental preparation, or the decision to go through the day happily, allows us to approach surprise in the most positive way possible.


  • Disgust : Disgust is a protective emotion; it is what stops us eating rotten fruit. In a luxury store in a European capital, I once saw a customer spit at the saleswoman who went over to attend her, because she felt she was being ignored! It needed the exclusive, patient attention of the store manager to accompany the salewoman, to overcome the mixture of disgust and anger.


  • Sadness : Sadness is a very common emotion in the retail world. It is fueled by the low social esteem taht the job is sometimes held in, which can be reinforced by poor management undervaluing its employees. Sadness creates pessimism and is accentuated by a feeling of loneliness.


  • Fear : This emotion is the result of a perceived threat or danger: the fear of being sacked. Fear of job insecurity. Fear of others: the customer, the boss. It creates vulnerability and instability. The foundations of fear can be numerous in retail. A large part of personal development is the construction of the security and serenity needed to keep these fears at bay.


We can say if five of these six emotions are positive or negative, but all are adaptive. In other words, they correspond to a broad palette of emotions that we have experienced at some point and, by managing teams, the retail coach needs to identify them in order to be able to recognize and deal with them.

Our mammal brain can distinguish 18 kinds of smiles in two hundredths of a second. In a retail encounter, in these two 1.4 meter-wide spheres containing the customer and the collaborator, emotions can be transmitted before words through non-verbal gestures.


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