We make an estimated 35,000 decisions every day and, according to researchers at Cornell, 226 of those are on food alone. Some decisions have greater impacts than others and they aren’t always easy to make. Decision-making is a skill set that needs to be developed like any other, and I am no exception to the difficulties of this. However, in order to make better decisions we need to first understand what influences our current decisions.
I recently wrote a blog on ‘What Motivates You to Work Hard’. Within this article I discovered that our emotions are the greatest motivators in determining how hard we work. As most of our actions are intended to cause us emotion, typically happiness, when we do a task, we generally want to receive a positive experience from it and this influences our approach to performing that task.
In his book ‘Predictably Irrational’ Dan Ariely explores the hidden forces that shape our decisions. In one chapter he suggests that in a stimulated state, we are more likely to undergo an action that we would not normally consider. Ariely conducts a series of experiments with young men to test the influence of arousal on decision-making in high-emotion situations, in this case, sexual arousal. From this experiment, he determined that in a stimulated state, the young men were more likely to undergo an action that they would not normally consider. Based on this data, Ariely argues that other high-emotion situations such as anger, frustration, and hunger can provoke similar effects on decision-making.
Although Ariely was criticised for the limited study sample used in his experiments (male university students in the US), he does make a valid point of how we tend to underestimate the effect of emotion on our behaviour.
Some of the worst decisions I have made have been when I was highly emotional, usually negatively. Anger and frustration have caused me to make rash decisions that I have later regretted. As a result, I began to condition myself to dismiss any negative feelings as irrational thoughts, and denied myself the opportunity to question them. Equally when I get excited about an idea I can easily get carried away with it and I’ve had to learn to stop and think it through before taking action.
Positive and negative emotions can both lead to bad decison-making, yet it does seem that, when it comes to negative feelings, we are less accepting of them. The no-fuss approach is preferred by others, and we are commended for composing ourselves and remaining calm in negative situations. However, our feelings are our bodies natural warning signs and in some situations are emotion is warranted and our reactions are in perfect proportion.So, why do we allow ourselves, and others, to belittle them?
Over the past decade countless studies by behavioural scientists have revealed emotions as powerful entities that can both harm AND benefit our decisions. Even so, the popular belief is that emotions cloud judgement and generally should be avoided, especially in professional situations.
Why are our emotions important?
Emotions give us the tools we need to interact and develop meaningful relationships with others, and our ability to understand and manage them i.e. emotional intelligence (EQ) has been shown to play an important role in decision-making.
Analytical thinkers will try to weigh up pros and cons of a decision and distance themselves from the emotional component. However, the factors that influence decision-making are far beyond a simple list. Past experiences conjure up feelings we had at the time and therefore has an indirect effect on our decision-making. So, whether we like it or not, our emotions do influence our decisions.
People who are emotionally intelligent are self-aware and intuitive to others. They can effectively manage their relationships with people and importantly, they have a healthy relationship with themselves. Think of most of the successful people in business. They haven’t got there on IQ alone. Great decision-makers have the ability to empathise with others and are effective communicators. So, how do they do it?
People who are emotionally intelligent don’t remove all emotions from their decision-making. They remove emotions that have nothing to do with the decision.” — Prof. Côté, University of Toronto.
Successful decision-makers don’t dismiss their emotion (or gut-feeling), they allow themselves to experience it so that they can remove the emotions that have nothing to do with the decision. It’s easy to see the flaws of others, but the most successful decision-makers can identify their own emotional triggers and work past them.
Harvard Business School professor and behavioural author Francesca Gino calls this checking your “emotional temperature”. Gino suggests that when you’re in a situation where you feel yourself getting highly emotional (positively or negatively), you should ask yourself questions in the moment of the decision e.g. does this fit in with my original objectives? Am I reacting to social/ organisational pressures? Gino also recommends taking a short break from that situation. Those few minutes where you allow yourself to process the information and identify your own emotional state could save you from making decisions that you later regret.
I’ve always been aware of my own emotional intellect, however occasionally this has been referenced as a weakness. As I get older, and more comfortable with myself, I have discovered that my emotions are actually my greatest strength, and key to my decision-making. They help me understand my professional and personal relationships, improve how I communicate with others and help inform the choices I make professionally.
It’s definitely a working progress and we can all have moments where we blow up, but as we learn to manage our emotions, these become small controlled explosion, rather than full blown nuclear blasts!
Typically, bottling up our emotions will eventually lead to an explosive reaction. However, if we give ourselves the time to experience our feelings we can begin to understand ourselves better. And, if we can understand ourselves better, then we can work out ways to deal with situations in the future, and make better decisions.
On a scale of 1–10, how would you rate your own emotional intelligence?