Emotional Intelligence Leads to Better Decisions
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Whenever someone asks me for a definition of Emotional Intelligence, I start with the science. We experience emotions in the limbic system (center of our brain) and do our rational thinking in the prefrontal cortex (right behind our forehead). This geography matters because our brains will process emotions in a split second, way before we have an opportunity to think through how to act on them in the far front region of our brain (prefrontal cortex).
In other words, absent deliberate systems, we are vulnerable to acting on emotions automatically without reflecting on what best serves the situation.
Have you ever done something you regretted? Maybe someone said something, you overreacted and then later thought to yourself, "What the heck was I thinking!"
That's just it. You weren't thinking!
The stimulus in your limbic system was so strong that it overpowered the rational portion of your brain. The technical term is amygdala hijack.
Emotional Intelligence, therefore, revolves around using emotions as a source of information rather than going on autopilot and reacting in a way that doesn't serve us. As we grow in Emotional Intelligence, we develop a better relationship with ourselves and others which translates to better results in our professional AND personal lives.
How do emotions impact on our decisions?
Let me give you an example we can all relate to - buying. Zig Ziglar famously said, "We buy on emotion but justify on logic."
I don't know about you, but when I first read that quote, I thought, "No way. Yes, others do, but I'm too smart for that." :)
But it's true.
Think about your average Super Bowl commercial. Advertisers don't speak to our prefrontal cortex by laying out facts but to our limbic system by evoking a desired emotional response.
Does it work? Of course! Sponsors would not pay millions of dollars for a 30-second ad if it didn't.
The very same principles apply to our decision-making. We may think we've done all the due diligence, but we are susceptible to looking for evidence that justifies a choice preferred by our emotions (limbic system).
How can we make sure our emotions don't sabotage our decisions?
Whenever my clients face big decisions, I reach for Red Team Coaching. Red Teach Coaching tools were first developed by the military and intelligence agencies, then evolved to help business executives thrive in complexity and make better decisions by ensuring emotions are an asset, not a liability.
An excellent example of a Red Team Coaching tool is Premortem analysis. Here's how to do it. Start by assuming that your plan has failed. Ask yourself, what are the most likely reasons it failed?
We spend so much time on our plans that it's easy for us to develop tunnel vision and filter out potential problems. Assuming our plans failed is a simple but powerful method that forces us to look at our ideas from a drastically different perspective.
This tool works best when done with your team because you will get extra points of view. Further, you will find that since the plan's failure at this point is theoretical, it will be easier to assess its problems without blame or biases (i.e., reduce emotional attachment).
Now that you identified all the ways your plan could go wrong, you can evaluate your approach more objectively and consider different possibilities. Even if you end up sticking to your original plan, you will ensure its success by proactively mitigating the risks you discovered.
Emotional Intelligence helps us to use our brain biology to our advantage when making decisions. Further, Red Team Coaching tools like Premorem Analysis ensure that our emotions don't blind us to better alternatives and enable us to enact plan-saving mitigation measures.
Guest Author: Marek Rudak
Marek Rudak has a passion for strengthening leaders though emotional intelligence.
Marek provides on-demand executive coaching to C-Suite leaders and their teams nationally and internationally for client companies, including Zillow Group, Autodesk, Pinterest, Nasdaq, Better Mortgage, The New York Times, Coursera, GE, Bloomberg, and TechnipFMC.
Born in Poland, he lost his dad at a young age and moved to the United States at 14. He graduated in the top 10% of his class at West Point and became a Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division, where he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Upon separating from the Army, he joined ExxonMobil, where he worked on global, multi-billion-dollar projects for 10 years. Seeking new directions, he studied leadership and emotional intelligence, becoming certified as a professional expert coach and trainer.