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Emotions list: A list of emotions & how to identify them


The Team at CallMiner

August 04, 2020

A List of Emotions & How to Identify Them
A List of Emotions & How to Identify Them

In the fast-paced call center environment, it pays to teach agents how to assess emotions in themselves and those with whom they interact. Emotions decorate all our everyday interactions. Learning to identify emotions as they arise in both ourselves and others can have immensely positive effects on our ability to cooperate and engage with others successfully.

Emotional skills begin with fostering understanding of what emotions exist, how they arise, and what defines them. For agents to navigate through tense situations with customers and other callers successfully, they should have a solid grasp of the emotional content of their conversations. Increased emotional awareness is likely to improve outcomes for customers and personnel across the board.

To learn how technology and artificial intelligence can identify emotion, download our white paper, Leveraging Emotion to Improve CX and Elevate Contact Center Performance.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Customer Service

There are numerous reasons to cultivate emotional intelligence, especially where customer service is concerned. The benefits below are but a few to consider:

Customer Engagement

Encouraging customers to interact with your business of their own volition could be as easy as leveling with them emotionally.


Agents who try to understand clients and leads on a deeper level stand a better chance of selling them things or offering solutions that truly satisfy their needs.


Employees with well-developed emotional intelligence are better able to empathize and cooperate with customers and their peers.

Derive Actionable Insights with AI-Driven Speech Analytics Software

Fostering emotional intelligence in your call center environment is a must, but it doesn’t stop there. Leveraging tools like customer engagement analytics and sentiment analysis solutions can reveal valuable insights into your customers’ emotions and perceptions. Driven by AI and machine learning, these tools provide actionable insights based on not only what your customers say, but how they say it, allowing you to develop more effective, impactful drivers of customer experience.

Speech analytics solutions like CallMiner Eureka also include powerful tools to help you optimize agent performance. Eureka Coach provides speech analytics insight for every call, including automated performance scoring that allows call center managers to identify coaching moments while also providing targeted guidance for agent self-improvement. Consistent coaching and training fosters emotional intelligence and arms your agents with the skills they need to turn nearly every customer interaction into a positive experience.

To respond effectively in the many interactions call center agents have each day, understanding human emotions is a must. Below, we’ve rounded up 25 expert tips and insights on the universal human emotions and how to identify and respond to them to improve your company’s interactions with customers.

Universal Human Emotions

1. Happiness is a major motivator in everyone’s life.

“While happiness is considered one of the basic human emotions, the things we think will create happiness tend to be heavily influenced by culture. For example, pop culture influences tend to emphasize that attaining certain things such as buying a home or having a high-paying job will result in happiness.

“The realities of what actually contributes to happiness are often much more complex and more highly individualized.” – Kendra Cherry, The 6 Types of Basic Emotions and Their Effect on Human Behavior, Verywell Mind; Twitter: @Verywell

2. Fear ranges from minor to serious.

“Fear is a response to impending danger. It is a survival mechanism that is a reaction to some negative stimulus. It may be a mild caution or an extreme phobia. If the fear is trivial, it is called ‘trifling fear’ or if the danger seems formidable it is a ‘serious fear.’ One secondary emotion in this category is ‘nervousness.’” – An Extensive List of Human Emotions and Their Meanings, PsycholoGenie

3. Surprise is borne of brevity.

“Surprise is an emotion that is often associated with a brief state of being. This brief state of being is invoked by an unexpected, relevant event. However, surprise isn’t always a traumatic emotional experience. Surprise has also been categorized into being valent, which means that it spans the spectrum of being neutral, pleasant, and unpleasant. Surprise is characterized by a facial expression that causes someone to arch their brows, open their eyes widely, and drop their jaw.” – January Nelson, A List Of Emotions And Facial Expressions, Thought Catalog; Twitter: @thoughtcatalog

4. Sadness can have profound impacts on long-term behavior.

“Sadness is a transient emotional state. It is typically characterized by feelings of grief, disappointment, disinterest, hopelessness, and a dampened mood. Sadness is an emotion that all people experience. In some cases, people experience severe and prolonged periods of sadness that can become depression.

“There are several ways we can express sadness such as quietness, dampened mood, withdrawal from others, lethargy and crying. The severity and type of sadness can vary depending on the cause and people cope with sadness in different ways. Sadness can make people avoid other people or even have negative thoughts about life.” – Hutch Morzaria, The Different Types of Emotions and How They Impact Human Behavior, Business 2 Community; Twitter: @b2community

5. Nostalgia helps individuals find deeper meaning in their lives.

“Bouts of nostalgia are often prompted by thoughts about the past; particular places and objects; feelings of loneliness, disconnectedness, or meaninglessness; and repeated sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and times of year. […] Our everyday is humdrum, often even absurd. Nostalgia can lend us much-needed context, perspective, and direction, reminding and reassuring us that our life (and that of others) is not as banal as it may seem, that it is rooted in a narrative, and that there have been, and will once again be, meaningful moments and experiences.” – Neel Burton, MD, The Meaning of Nostalgia, Psychology Today; Twitter: @psychtoday

6. Emotional excitement arouses the senses.

“Excitement begins in the brain just like any other emotion. Emotions, however, have strong physiological responses. Many people are familiar with the experience of stomach sensations (‘butterflies in the stomach’), trembling, weakness, and sweaty palms in response to a state of fear or excitement. These are the body’s complex responses to a mental condition. Excitement is a condition of physiological arousal.” – Neil Patel, The Psychology of Excitement: How to Better Engage Your Audience, Hubspot; Twitter: @HubSpot

7. Satisfaction hinges on acceptably resolving obligations.

“Customer level of approval when comparing a product’s perceived performance with his or her expectations. [It] also could refer to discharge, extinguishment, or retirement of an obligation to the acceptance of the obligor, or fulfillment of a claim. While satisfaction is sometimes equated with performance, it implies compensation or substitution whereas performance denotes doing what was actually promised.” – What is satisfaction? Definition and Meaning, Business Dictionary; Twitter: @bizdictionary

8. Envy manifests as discomfort coupled with intense longing.

“Most philosophers who have sought to define envy agree in treating it as a form of distress experienced by the subject because he does not possess the good and the rival does, and in attributing a desire for the good to Subject. Many, but not all, go on to add that envy involves a desire that the rival not have the good. […] Robert Young suggests that what differentiates envy from mere longing is that, in (even benign) envy, the subject is pained because the rival has the good.” – Envy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

9. Disgust manifests on both an instinctual and culturally influenced level.

“The universal trigger for disgust is the feeling that something is offensive, poisonous or contaminating. We can feel disgusted by something we perceive with our physical senses (sight, smell, touch, sound, taste), by the actions and appearances of people, and even by ideas. Some triggers for disgust are universal (such as encountering certain bodily products) whereas other triggers are much more culturally and individually influenced (such as certain types of food).” – What is Disgust?, Paul Ekman Group; Twitter: @PaulEkman

10. Craving expressions mirror obsessive-compulsive behavior.

“A report in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Research (Modell JG et al, 1992) indicates that many of the symptoms of craving in the dependent individual are similar to the thought patterns and behaviors of persons with obsessive-compulsive disorder.” – What Is Craving, Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation; Twitter: @hazldnbettyford

11. Confusion can be reconciled by understanding new information.

“When people are confused, there are likely to be three outcomes: they hold on to their current beliefs and dismiss the new piece of information, they assimilate the new piece of information and overwrite the old one; or they find a way to hold both beliefs without conflict. Paradoxes are examples of the latter: at first, they seem to contain two opposing pieces of information, but upon scrutiny, the opposition was only apparent.” – Confusion, Emotion Typology

12. Anxiety manifests in the face of unfamiliarity.

“Anxiety is the mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations. It’s the sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread you feel before a significant event. A certain level of Anxiety helps us stay alert and aware, but for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, it feels far from normal – it can be completely debilitating.” – Tanja Jovanovic, Ph.D., What is Anxiety?,; Twitter: @Anxietyorg

13. Boredom is tough to escape but can be mitigated with acceptance.

“A study found that people who reported feelings of boredom more frequently tried to alleviate it with brief distractions including work breaks or doing laundry. But these boredom Band-Aids soon failed […]. On the other hand, people who meditated, engaged with other people or accepted the boredom were more successful.” – Cristen Conger, Can you die of boredom?, How Stuff Works; Twitter: @HowStuffWorks

14. Guilt can prove helpful in remediating conflicts.

“Guilt, because it emphasizes what someone did wrong, tends to elicit more constructive responses, particularly responses which seek to mend the damage done. Guilt is tied to beliefs about what is right and wrong, moral and immoral. When we violate one of these moral guidelines, it causes us to feel guilty over our actions and seek to fix what we have done (see cognitive dissonance). As a result, guilt is an important tool in maintaining standards of right and wrong in individuals and society as a whole. As such, guilt can often be used as a tool to overcome conflict.” – Phil Barker, Guilt and Shame, Beyond Intractability


“What many people don’t realize is that anger is a secondary emotion. What does this mean? Typically, one of the primary emotions, like fear or sadness, can be found underneath the anger. Fear includes things like anxiety and worry, and sadness comes from the experience of loss, disappointment or discouragement.” – Kim Pratt, Psychology Tools: What is Anger? A Secondary Emotion, HealthyPsych; Twitter: @HealthyPsych

Tips for Identifying Emotions

16. Anger is easy to identify and lessened with empathy.

“If you’re paying attention, it’s easy to identify if someone is angry, frustrated or disappointed. More often than not, customers will explicitly share negative emotions with you. When dealing with such emotions, it’s critical for you to be open minded, patient and empathetic. Understand where they’re coming from and what you can do to resolve that situation.”- Benjamin Brandall, How to Use Emotional Intelligence to Provide Exceptional Customer Service,

17. Both conscious and unconscious actions often stem from emotional states.

“The behavioral expression of emotion also includes conscious and unconscious gestures, postures and mannerisms, and overt behavior that can be either spontaneous or deliberate. One might hesitate to call deliberate behavior an ‘expression’ because of the intervening conscious activity it involves. One might speak instead of such behavior as being ‘out of’ the emotion (as in, ‘he acted out of anger’). Yet the difference between the two cases is often very slight. Acting out of anger may be immediate, as in the case of a spontaneous insult, or it may be protracted or delayed.” – Robert C. Solomon, The structure of emotions, Britannica; Twitter: @britannica

18. Emotional states are largely interconnected.

“Using novel statistical models to analyze the responses of more than 800 men and women to over 2,000 emotionally evocative video clips, Keltner and his colleagues at UC Berkeley created a multidimensional, interactive map to show how feelings like envy, joy, pride, and sadness relate to each other. […] Moreover, in contrast to the notion that each emotional state is an island, the study found that ‘there are smooth gradients of emotion between, say, awe and peacefulness, horror and sadness, and amusement and adoration,’ Keltner said.” – Yasmin Anwar, How Many Different Human Emotions Are There?, Greater Good Magazine; Twitter: @GreaterGoodSC

19. Negative emotions tend to linger longer than positive ones.

“Both positive and negative emotions can be contagious, with the spillover of negative emotions lasting longer than positive emotions. Linguistics may be a clue to emotions, according to Penn State research. As you may have experienced in the past, contagion can be especially salient in a team setting. Research shows that emotions are contagious and that team members affect one another even after accounting for team performance. One explanation for negative emotions’ tendency to linger may be a stronger connection to the fight-or-flight situations people experience. Anger, fear, and suspicion are intentionally unpleasant messages urging us to take action immediately. And to make sure we get the message, these emotions stick around.” – 7.4 What Are Emotions? | Organizational Behavior, Lumen Learning

20. Reactions may mask true emotions.

“In many cases, ostensible reactions may obscure what you or others are really feeling. For example, anger may really be a manifestation of fear. When you end a relationship (professional or personal) the other person may get angry because he or she fears the consequences of losing you. Similarly, a person may be angry about being asked a question that he or she cannot answer, because that person fears looking stupid.” – Bruce Y. Lee, Here Are The 27 Different Human Emotions, According To A Study, Forbes; Twitter: @bruce_y_lee

21. Four out of the five main types of emotions are recognizable by all humans instinctively.

“There are five types of emotion: conceptions, sensations, reflexes, involuntary expressions and voluntary expressions. Conceptions, sensations, reflexes and involuntary expressions are biological adaptations. They are transmitted to the next generation through reproduction.  They are universal to the species. Voluntary expressions are cultural adaptations. They are transmitted to the next generation through interaction. They vary by culture.” – Mark Devon, 5 Types of Emotion, the Origin of Emotions

22. Breathing patterns can help indicate a person’s emotional state.

“Psychologist Susana Bloch, author of books such as ‘The Dawn of Emotions’ or ‘Surfing the Emotional Wave,’ has investigated the respiratory and post-facial patterns of basic emotions in humans. He identified that each emotion is manifested with a body posture, facial and a breathing pattern that helps others to know the emotional state of the other. Breathing during emotions is very interesting; because with each of them there is a difference in the amplitude of the movements of the diaphragm, in the breathing pauses and in the degree of tension of the intercostal muscles (located in the anterior and lateral part of the thorax).” – Types of Emotions, LoreCentral

23. The “Advocacy Cluster” of happiness and pleasure is likely to be expressed after repeated pleasurable experiences.

“Made of only two emotions, Happy and Pleased, the Advocacy Cluster is crucial to your experience. People rarely think they are happy enough, so they are always striving to find more happiness than they have now. A customer experience should deliver pleasure in the form of fixes or treats that evoke these vital emotions from experience participants.” – Colin Shaw, The 20 emotions that drive or destroy value in customer experience, My Customer; Twitter: @MyCustomer

24. Secondary emotions strengthen over time.

“Secondary emotions stem from one or more primary emotions […] sometimes, knowing the difference between the two types of emotions can be hard. If you ever find yourself in this situation, answer the following questions:

  • Is your emotion a direct reaction to something that just happened? (yes = primary)
  • After the event has ended, did the emotion go away? (yes = primary)
  • Is your emotion getting stronger with time? (yes = secondary)
  • Is it ambiguous and hard to interpret? (yes = secondary)” – Types of Emotions – How Your Emotions Arise and Evolve, Mindvalley; Twitter: @mindvalley 

25. Pay attention to corporal clues to better gauge your own emotional state.

“Since our body is closely tied to our emotions, one way to become more aware of our emotions is to notice how our body is behaving. Headaches and aching muscles in the neck and shoulders may indicate panic, a tight chest may signal fear, a racing heart and perspiration usually signal emotions akin to anger, and fatigue and slowed speech suggest sadness. By learning how our body reveals our inner emotional state, we can not only be more aware of what we are feeling but most likely will discover the onset of emotional states more quickly.” – Dealing With Your Emotions in Negotiations,

How do you approach the development of emotional intelligence in the call center?

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