How did you make your last decision at work? Maybe you decided on a new stationery supplier, or chose one out of five applicants for a job. Perhaps the decision was to allocate a budget to a particular venture inside your business, or it might have been to avoid Reggie’s little social down the pub this evening (what a bore that man is!).
Then again you might have decided to work late tonight to finish that proposal, or perhaps your last decision was to put a tenner into the charity collection, instead of your usual fiver.
Whatever it was, one thing is certain: it was one of many decisions you made today. In business, we all make dozens—hundreds, perhaps—of decisions every day. This article is not about how to make better decisions. Well, in a way it is, but I am not proposing to discuss decision making processes here.
Today, I emailed a client asking him what his decision making process was going to be at the interviews he will be holding on Friday. It’s an important process for him: he has two members of staff and is seeking two more. His reply was perfect: “I did an entire thesis on decision making at A level and came to conclusion that if it feels right then it probably is, [so I used] feeling.”
I would like to suggest that we all make all of our decisions based on our feelings. I’m not saying that we only use feelings, but I do argue that how we feel about the choices we have to make will be the ultimate determinant of our selection.
In 1928, Carl Jung identified that each person receives and processes information in four ways: thinking, feeling, knowing and sensing. Each of us favours one of the modes above the others but we all use all four. I am using these words with a slightly specialised definition, so here is my illustration of them.
In the processing that goes towards decision making, thinkers use data: facts and figures; they analyse and deduce. Feelers consider their emotions, and there is a sense of ‘feeling their way’. Knowers are the intuitive ones: they may not actually know how they made the decision, but they are sure it’s right (incidentally this certainty of being right doesn’t actually make them more right than anyone else!). And sensors will use the input from their senses to inform them.
(Incidentally, this work by Jung forms the basis of the Myers-Briggs (and many other) personality metrics so, unlike most advances in theoretical psychology, this one has been tried and tested millions of times.)
Notice I said ‘in the processing that goes towards decision making’ a couple of paras back. In other words, we harness our favoured mode when analysing the data, but we use feelings to make the decision.
He studied people with damage to their amygdalae, that is parts of the brain where emotions are generated. He found that they seemed normal, except that they were not able to feel emotions.
But they all had something peculiar in common: they couldn’t make decisions. They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions, such as what to eat. Many decisions have pros and cons on both sides—shall I have the chicken or the turkey? With no rational way to decide, these test subjects were unable to arrive at a decision.
So at the point of decision, emotions are very important for choosing. In fact even with what we believe are logical decisions, the very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion.
If you’re a thinker, reacting against this thesis, I cannot reassure you with a thinker’s proof, or even a justification (I am a thinker myself, so I know how you feel). I could construct a plausible explanation which would be too long for this article to carry.
It would go something like this. We have experienced the world since we were in the womb. Our minds are capable of making connections and extrapolating at various levels, from the primitive to the postgraduate, and we tend to form beliefs about how the world is, based on our experiences.
This is an essential process because we can use our catalogue of experiences to predict the likely outcome of a current situation based on our beliefs without having to reprocess everything from scratch. Very important if you’ve just heard the roar of a sabre toothed tiger near at hand.
Our beliefs generate feelings: the belief that the roar of the tiger presages attack immediately creates a set of feelings around fear and so on. And so, naturally the behaviour comes: we run like hell. Note that, in this chain experience-belief-feeling-behaviour, there is no room for logical deduction.
Our feelings and instincts to behave (ie take decisions) are found in earlier, more primitive parts of the brain than the higher rational functions which developed after these processes has developed.
So, if you will accept that we make decisions based on our feelings (whatever other modes we may have used in the preparatory work), the question arises: what tools do we have to help us make these decisions?
We have plenty of tools for the thinking bit: computers, databases, algorithms, calculators, newspapers, magazines, books, our own and other people’s notes, research, television—in fact, a brainstorming session with half a dozen people will yield over forty different ‘thinkers’ tools’. How many tools are there to aid the feeling bit?
It’s probable you’ve not encountered any.
Emotional intelligence is not the most beautiful, accurate or even appealing phrase (one businessman told me recently that, if I sent him any emails with the word ‘emotional’ in the title, he would delete them without opening!). Nevertheless, it seems to be the phrase that people recognise, so I will use it.
Emotional intelligence offers a set of tools around feelings which enable people to take better decisions. Because it deals with feelings, it annoys the hell out of thinkers and knowers—hence the observation of my contact above. Of course, being annoyed is a feeling, but let that pass.
Emotional intelligence has many other applications in business of which, the whole process that leads up to the decision is one of the most important. Basically, it addresses how people work and how people work together. If you’ve insight into all of that, you have real power, and a real reason to believe you’re making the right decisions.
> Thinker, feeler, knower, sensor?
> The best way to make decisions
> Decisions are emotional, not logical: the neuroscience behind decision making (Jim Camp) [external link]
> The roles of the amygdala in the affective regulation of body, brain, and behaviour (comprehensive review of the literature and research) [external link]
by Jeremy Marchant . © 2013 Jeremy Marchant Limited . with thanks to Darren Shirlaw for contributing some of these ideas . uploaded 4 march 2013 . image: Free images
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