In My Feelings: The Connections Between Music, Emotional Intelligence, and Change Management

Change is hard. Sendero Principal Amanda Kraft discusses the importance of emotion in change management activities.



Change is hard.

Almost three months into the year, and I’m still writing “2018.” Attendance at the gym has already fizzled. Big or small, it’s hard to fundamentally change your behavior – especially if it’s easier just to keep doing what you’ve been doing.

It’s the same story at work. Businesses need to change constantly to keep pace with competitors, customers, and external pressures. There is no shortage of change management methodologies and approaches, checklists, and toolkits to shepherd employees through the changes.

Change management activities absolutely work, but only if you can tap into emotion.

Amanda Kraft. [Image: Courtesy Sendero]

Think about how hard personal change is. Now multiply that by the feelings of security and identity that are often associated with someone’s job. If you are asking someone to change the way they work, there are a lot of emotions involved.
Thankfully, you don’t need a degree in psychology to be a successful change practitioner (although it would help!). You just have to be able to meet people where they are to help them get to a place of acceptance. There are already several studies on the connections between emotional intelligence and change management – linked here and here – and I wanted to offer another dimension. Namely, a “shortcut” to tapping into change-related emotions via music.

Music has the power to trigger emotions.

Different music serves different purposes; contrast the music in a doctor’s waiting room with a sporting event. Music can be therapeutic, energizing, or motivating, and can set a mood or convey feelings in a way that words sometimes can’t. Recent studies have shown that music can increase empathy, and even build greater emotional intelligence.

To bring this full circle, I recommend using music as a tool to connect with your stakeholder audiences.

I’m not suggesting a pep rally or walk-up songs in team meetings (although that may fit some company cultures); rather think about using music in the following ways:

  • In a change network meeting, ask team members what song best represents how they’re feeling about the change. You’d be surprised what people are willing to share! This will help you gauge how far you are from your project goals and may help pinpoint what other change interventions are needed.
  • If you’re short on time, you could also use music as a fast-track to empathizing with those affected by the change. Find and listen to a song that triggers a specific emotion (fear, loss, relief, joy). There’s a recommended playlist below, but what works for you may be different.
  • Once you’re tapped into an emotion, it may help you better relate to team members and come up with more relevant and creative activities for the change plan.

I offer you—a “change curve playlist”—one that covers a range of emotions you may be feeling as you work through your projects!

  • It’s The End of the World as We Know It – R.E.M.
  • Numb – U2
  • In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins
  • Paint It, Black – The Rolling Stones
  • Mad World – Gary Jules
  • In The End – Linkin Park
  • Nothing Else Matters – Metallica
  • Gotta Get Thru This – Daniel Bedingfield
  • The Middle – Jimmy Eat World
  • Harder Better Faster Stronger – Daft Punk
  • The Climb – Miley Cyrus
  • Shake It Out – Florence + The Machine
  • I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash
  • Three Little Birds – Bob Marley & The Wailers
  • Lovely Day – Bill Withers


If Leo Tolstoy is right, and “music is the shorthand of emotion,” I think that it can be a powerful tool in connecting with those affected by business changes.

Have you tried this approach or something similar? What other songs would you recommend? Add your thoughts and song requests on Sendero’s LinkedIn and Facebook.

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