Every so often, we hear that superior decision-making comes from shutting out our emotions and letting our rational brain prove why we are different from other animals. However, concerning emotions, our brain functions like a reptile’s. The sooner we understand we cannot dissociate emotions from decision-making, the sooner we can use them to our advantage.
Our lizard brains: name and manage your emotions
Emotions are information: signals sent to our body before our rational brain can even assess a situation. If you ignore yours, you miss a part of your decision-making picture. At every moment of every day, we function in an emotional state. Usually mild enough not to disturb our performance.
Nevertheless, emotions are ever present in each decision we make. Name how you feel and look out for disruptive emotions – such as anxiety, shame, fear, and anger – that may cloud your judgement. Listen to your emotional cues, understand what lies behind them, and use this data to inform your decision – just like you would with any other data set.
Impulse control and why you should still listen to your gut feeling
Impulse control is the ability to delay response when presented with a stimulus. If someone in your team has just made a significant mistake with one of your main clients, your immediate reaction might be to shout at the person and fire them on the spot. Perhaps letting your employee go will be the right decision in the end. At that moment, however, you do not have enough information, nor are you in the right mindset to make that call. Delaying your behaviour allows you to check in with your emotions, manage them and assess reality objectively before proceeding.
On the other hand, impulse control is not a synonym for ignoring your “gut feeling”. Humans are experts at detecting and understanding patterns of sensory information. These patterns are based on experience and beliefs, drive quick decision-making and can be exceptionally accurate and helpful. After all, it is not seldomly that we have seconds to read the room and decide how to act. However, gut feelings are also permeable to biases.
Reality test yourself: identify biases, read the situation objectively
When making decisions such as hiring or promoting, it is indispensable to take a step back and debate our “gut feeling”. Am I being biased towards this person because they often remind me of my younger self? Am I passing on someone else for the position due to limited interactions in the past? Or am I painting an accurate picture of the role, team and organizational needs based on experience and vision?
When you become aware of your emotions and biases, you are more likely to consider all relevant data points and objectively assess reality. These will not only result in a well-informed decision but will also inject confidence into the decision-making process.
Embrace your emotions or watch them compromise your decisions. They sit with you at the table, but you have the upper hand. Play them to your advantage and make the most out of every decision.
The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success by Howard E. Book & Steven J. Stein
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman