Deciding with Emotion and Intuition or Reason?

Have you ever just known what you should do?  Felt it deep in your gut?  Or do you only feel comfortable making a decision after long and careful analysis?  We feel that one way is superior to the other, when in reality, one is not inherently better than the other.  In many cases, we need both emotion and reason to be able to make quality decisions.

If you are like me, you went to school and were taught to evaluate all of the data and analyze it in order to make a decision or come to a conclusion.  It is what we are taught in our society today.  However, have you ever analyzed all of the data and it was pointing you in one  direction, but your gut was sort of churning and telling you to take another direction?

There are many times that emotions act as a sort of relevance detector.  They are picking up on something that may be unconscious in your thinking, or are encouraging you to be self aware before making a decision.  According to Pfister and Böhm (2008), emotions play a very important part in decision making.  They provide information, improve decision making speed, assess relevance, and enhance commitment.  Let’s take a look at each of these four aspects of Pfister and Böhm’s decision making framework.

Emotions provide information in the form of a visceral or gut reaction to a situation or dilemma.  Many times this is either a positive or negative experience that is based on previous experience and unconscious reactions.  This information is especially prevalent when the decision can be reduced to whether or not it will cause a negative or a positive experience.

Emotions also can improve decision making speed.  Think of a time where you had to make a snap decision.  Most likely it was because there was danger or an immediate positive or negative response, such as hunger, fear, or anger, is associated with your decision.  Without emotions, it would take longer to assess the situation and determine the best course of action.  However, as leaders it is important to recognize that there are times that you need to slow down that gut decision making process because you are in a hot zone where you can’t make a decision that is in the best interest of yourself or the organization.

Emotions allow you to assess relevance.  This means that you emotions serve as a barometer for the pieces of information involved in the decision making process  and lets you evaluate which pieces of information are important.  You will find yourself unconsciously discarding pieces of information and focusing on others to help you in your decision making process.  I encourage leaders to be mindful because it allows you to be increasingly aware of all pieces information and have increased faculty with assessing all of the information for relevance both in terms of emotion and data.

The final role that emotions play in decision making is that they enhance commitment.  When you are emotionally involved with a decision, you have increased buy-in with your ultimate decision.  Emotions also play a role by engaging love, guilt, or shame to prevent you from making decisions that are purely based on self interest, but rather take into account all of the feelings and needs of others.  Emotionally intelligent leaders are very adept in managing their emotions and relationships to read a situation to make a decision that is in the best interest of all parties involved.

emotions-are-not-the-enemyThere have been times in my life where I have let emotions too strongly rule my decisions, and other times where I have only used “reason.”  I have found that when I use one or the other to an extreme that my decisions are not necessarily what I would like them to be.  When leaders rely too much on reason, we can get caught in analysis paralysis, and our decision may not be in the best interest of either ourselves or the other people who are impacted.

Harmonious Leaders learn to leverage their emotions and emotional intelligence to make decisions that are in the best interest of not only themselves, but also the people in their organization or community.  Emotions are not your enemy, but they are an ally when used effectively.

Pfister, H.R., & Böhm, G. (2008). The multiplicity of emotions: A framework of emotional functions in decision making. Judgment and decision making, 3(1), 5-17

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