Timely Emotion: The Rhetorical Framing of Strategic Decision Making

Prins Marcus Valiant Lantz

Research output: Book/ReportPhD thesis

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This dissertation investigates how humans decide to take action—from a rhetorical perspective in which decision making is the social exchange of reasons about choice in the face of uncertainty.
While rhetoric, broadly understood as a theory of persuasive discourse, is integral to examining decision making as persuasive processes of symbolic interaction, existing theories of temporality, emotion, and framing provide key insights as to why some arguments compel humans to make a decision—and act on it. Albeit rhetoric frames emotion and reason, temporality emphasizes the negotiation of past, present, and future, and together shape the exchange of arguments that constitute decisions. Integrating these two insights, the question is:
How does rhetorical argumentation constitute organizational decisions on when and how to act?
To investigate this research question, the dissertation combines a pragmatist philosophy of science with an action-research empirical approach and conducts two qualitatively informed field studies, totalling 22 months, as well as a final, mainly theoretical study of a key political speech. The first study specifically addresses the decision of when to act and addresses the temporal dimension of organizational decision making, detailing how organizational actors reason about the right time to begin a strategy process. The second study specifically addresses the decision of how to act and examines how organizational actors use framing rhetorically to resonate with decision makers. The third study investigates how arguments of timeliness appeal to emotion in order to muster support for a decision and, equally, how arguments that appeal to emotion may reflect or even constitute the reasons to act in the present. Thus, it synthesizes the two empirical studies in order to explain the confluence of time and emotion.
As a whole, the dissertation demonstrates how the ongoing negotiated organizing of emotion constitutes compelling reasons to act. Three key findings support this conclusion. The first study finds that the constitution of a compelling opportune moment, deciding when to act, requires both a fit with existing organizational interpretations and an active shaping of what the organization aspires to achieve. The second study finds that deciding how to act is made possible by diagnostic and prognostic framing, which become persuasive through appeals to emotional experiences. The third study finds that experiences and choices from the past influence the emotions that decision makers feel in the present and inform the intertemporal mechanisms that allow them to take the leap of faith of decision making.
These findings advance our understanding of how decisions happen in organizations—both in times of relative peace and prosperity and in dire straits where decision makers experience significant pressure to act. In essence, the dissertation provides novel insights into the convergent nature of emotion and cognition by detailing the role of time as a mediating factor in the argumentation about and framing of contingent matters. Thus, it contributes to a rhetorical theory of organizational decision making and offers practical advice on how organizational and societal actors may make better decisions.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
PublisherCopenhagen Business School [Phd]
Number of pages232
ISBN (Print)9788793956544
ISBN (Electronic)9788793956551
Publication statusPublished - 2020
SeriesPhD Series

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