Emotional Decision Making

SOMETHING IS STIRRING in the corporate world as companies finally start to recognise the paradox they have created. On the one hand, they have invested millions in computer-operated voice response systems, reducing customers and business processes to a series of acronyms and numerical codes. On the other, they wonder why clients complain so loudly about impersonal service and the inability to "just talk to someone".

In the rush to cut costs or embrace the latest hi-tech solutions, companies repeatedly overlook what specially convened focus groups and customer surveys are telling them: what influences decision making and precisely how people feel.

By removing the human touch from so many day-to-day transactions, businesses may have achieved certain short-term objectives. But they've also eliminated the interpersonal or emotional element, forgetting that this is often the determining factor in a decision to act, buy or recommend.

Employees realise that similar forces have been active for some time in the workplace. Every major decision is based on a detailed analysis of spreadsheets, financial printouts, projected returns on investment and complex quantitative models. Emotions are considered a distraction, and the prevailing wisdom says that "gut feelings" have no part to play.

But an emotionally intelligent leader sees the world differently, and is brave enough to take an alternative approach. He or she accepts that emotions are an integral part of any decision-making process and will inform our behaviour at work, whether we like it or not.

Our feelings have an impact on everything, ranging from whether to hire a candidate or award a better than average bonus, to deciding whether to press ahead with a multibillion-dollar corporate acquisition. By accepting this, we can be more effective in many ways - thinking creatively, solving problems and building stronger teams.

There are many reasons why leaders should use their emotions in the decision-making process, but three stand out.

Firstly, people able to explain their own feelings when making choices or decisions are typically seen by others as more authentic, insightful and sincere. These attributes are widely viewed as the mark of a good leader.

Secondly, anyone who takes the feelings and perspectives of others into account can generate greater understanding and "buy-in" from those affected. This applies even when the ultimate decision is likely to create a less than positive impact.

Thirdly, if emotions are not suppressed in the workplace, they provide another valuable source of information. Of course, they never take the place of purely rational considerations, but they can complement all the facts and figures by prompting new ideas or stimulating "out of the box" thinking.

Most of us do not have a conscious thought process reminding us to take full account of emotions when making decisions at work. To develop this skill, you can follow the five steps set out below. They have been shown to help both individuals and teams reach decisions which are understood and accepted.

Logically, the process starts with rational aspects before moving on to the emotional ones. In that way, it ensures that you give fair weight to the relevant sources of information and effectively cover all the bases.

An important preliminary exercise is to think about the expected or desired outcome. If you begin with the end in mind, it is easier to articulate what's required or the issue to address.

This may involve establishing what benefits will accrue or how the department or company will be better off.

Also, look ahead and consider the foreseeable results of the most likely outcomes. Remember that other people will automatically be thinking of them as well, and that will therefore be influencing their emotions.

Once you have done this, run through the following steps. If you don't know all the answers, don't worry about it. Move on to the next thing and come back later if necessary. The process is not linear. Rather, it is a method of balancing rational and emotional elements to arrive at the best possible decision.

The facts Make sure that you understand the technical facts and background data. These may relate to price, timing, quality requirements or service aspects. If there is potential for confusion, separate the different elements on a chart and list the relevant facts and figures for each one.

Key stakeholders Next, consider who will be affected by the decision, either immediately or in due course. This could be clients, vendors, colleagues or overseas offices. If necessary, map out the different stakeholders so that you have a visual representation and can understand the various roles and relationships.

When identifying these stakeholders, also consider their perspectives and likely feelings, both perceived and known. This is a matter of applying common sense and a modicum of intuition. Remember that your perceptions may be wrong, and that one thing can be guaranteed - not everyone will see things the same way.

Personal feelings After considering what others are likely to feel, reflect on your emotions concerning the issue in hand. Again, if there are several dimensions and some tough choices involved, list your feelings pertaining to each one.

Solution To arrive at a solution, or decision, weigh up all the information and perspectives so far obtained. Review the facts, technical information and various feelings, then define a workable solution that you believe will be the best fit.

Deliver The final step is to communicate any decision in a way that reflects the process. This is particularly important when decisions have a direct impact on people who were not involved along the way.

Taking hearts and minds into account on path to EI

Know your Stakeholders In any decision, the stakeholders can include everyone from senior management to colleagues, customers, vendors, regulatory authorities and the taxman. The key is to understand as much about these people as possible. This makes it possible to develop a higher degree of awareness and empathy, so that you know what they need and expect, and what they may want to see changed. With these insights, you can anticipate their reactions and understand what is important to them. Knowing about their achievements, present situation and future goals will make it easier to understand their viewpoint on rational things, as well as the more emotional elements. When making a decision, you can then take into account what is in their heart and in their head.

Developing Skills With self-awareness and observation, it becomes easier to interpret your own emotions and other people's. To improve in this respect, pay attention to the following points. Consider how you currently confirm that stakeholders have committed to a decision you have made. Ask yourself if you are doing enough to convince them. In addition, make it a habit to consider the emotional aspects, not just the basic data, before finalising any decision. Finally, reflect on how you usually acknowledge other people's feelings in the work environment. It can be a good idea to adopt three additional techniques to show or clearly explain that you have taken account of the different feelings surrounding a particular issue.

Personal Action Plan Enhancing one's skills in any area - whether learning a foreign language, mastering a software program or developing better leadership abilities - requires planning. Developing emotional intelligence (EI) is no different. The first step is to set your mind to it. Then, take a good look at the work processes or personal behaviour you may need to change to achieve your new goals. Finally, be ready to keep adapting as you move forward on the path to becoming more emotionally intelligent.