Emotional sensegiving

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


Earlier research on strategic sensegiving has discovered numerous tactics that change leaders use to influence their followers' mental models. However, these studies have focused only on the content of the words spoken during the sensegiving process. This has led to an overemphasis of cognitive processes and identity dynamics in the existing theory. At the same time, the role of non-cognitive factors and, especially, emotional arousal, in sensegiving has been understudied. To fill this gap in the sensegiving theory, I analyze sensegiving from an emotional perspective in this dissertation. In contrast to previous studies, my empirical analysis goes beyond the content of words spoken. Instead, I use video-based, qualitative analyses to recognize emotional dynamics from non-verbal cues. A total of 1,252 sensegiving instances, which include both the sensegiver's actions and the sense-receivers' reactions, are analyzed in this way. The instances occurred during a strategic change seminar of a Finnish Property Service Company. This analysis is complemented and contextualized by interviews, surveys, and field observation. A process theory of emotional sensegiving is generated through the data analysis. Accordingly, emotional sensegiving consists of dozens of micro-sequences that further consist of three micro-phases. The micro-phases are increasing arousal, cognitive (re)framing, and reinforcing commitment. Emotional arousal that is generated during the first micro-phase decays slowly and transfers to the later micro-phases. The arousal becomes associated with cognitive content that is delivered during the subsequent micro-phases. Consequently, the latter content feels more emotional and is better internalized. The use of tactics for increasing emotional arousal is supported by a background process which counters resistant reactions in a pre-emptive way. This dissertation contributes to research on sensegiving in four specific ways. First, the recognition of "increasing emotional arousal" as a sensegiving tactic allows scholars to see that the primary purpose of many sensegiving acts is to influence emotions, not cognitions as the previous theory would indicate. Second, the process theory of emotional sensegiving explains how emotional arousal can be used to increase the effectiveness of sensegiving in organizations. Third, the process theory has implications for the current, identity-based sensegiving theories. Most importantly, the need to unfreeze sense-receivers' identities is reduced. Fourth, this thesis illustrates how video-based data collection and analysis methods can be used to enrich our understanding of sensegiving.
Translated title of the contributionEmotional sensegiving
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Vartiainen, Matti, Supervising Professor
  • Laamanen, Tomi, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-4352-4
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-4353-1
Publication statusPublished - 2011
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • emotional arousal
  • mental model
  • sensegiving
  • sensemaking


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