Remove Emotion from the Decision-making Equation

By R. Keith Mobley, Principal SME, Life Cycle Engineering

The ability to express and control our own emotions is important, but so is our ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. Imagine a world where you could not understand when a friend was feeling sad or when a co-worker was angry. Psychologists refer to this ability as emotional intelligence and some experts even suggest that it can be more important than any other measure of intelligence or ability.

There are four major areas of emotional intelligence: perceiving, reasoning with, understanding and managing emotions. It is the second that I would like to explore in this letter. How many times in your career, perhaps even today, have your business and personal decisions been driven by emotions?

Earlier this year we had the opportunity to visit a new client who has serious reliability problems. Process lines are down almost as often as they run; reacting to failures is an almost continuous act; and above all else, emotions run high. As we observed the turmoil, one thing became clear—logic had left the building. Every action, every decision was driven solely by emotional reaction to a stimulus, usually a breakdown or management directive. It even carried over into decision about new capital equipment procurement and non-emergency activities. At all levels of the company emotions had become not only dominant—they had become the only driver. The result was not pretty. The plant was in a death spiral. Simple problems became unsolvable and simple decisions took on the appearance of string theory.

Emotions, and our ability to truly understand and leverage them, form an essential part of our lives, including our lives at work. But in any successful company, emotions have no place in the decision-making process. Decisions, no matter how small or large, must be made solely on factual data and without any bias or emotions. One cannot rely on emotion or instinct in the decision-making process. Our coaching to the management team in this example was to stop reacting to emergencies, real or perceived, and instead to logically evaluate the facts—the real ones—before making a decision. It is imperative that decisions, especially those in stressful situations, be made in a calm, cool frame of mind. If you allow emotions to take control, the probability is high that the wrong decision will be made.

I am not suggesting that we should become emotionless. It would be a boring world without emotions. As the science of emotional intelligence states, there are four steps in understanding and using emotions effectively:

  • The first step in understanding emotions is to accurately perceive them. In many cases, this might involve understanding nonverbal signals such as body language and facial expressions
  • The next step involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritize what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention.
  • The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety of meanings. If someone is expressing angry emotions, the observer must interpret the cause of their anger and what it might mean. For example, if your boss is acting angry, it might mean that he is dissatisfied with your work; or it could be because he got a speeding ticket on his way to work that morning or that he's been fighting with his wife.
  • The ability to manage emotions effectively is a key part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions, responding appropriately and responding to the emotions of others are all important aspects of emotional management.

All of these are fundamental requirements for effective leadership, sustainable change and continuous improvement. All should be nurtured until they are part of your DNA. But always remember that emotions are not and should not be part of your decision-making process.

“Remove Emotion from the Decision-Making Equation"

Keith Mobley has earned an international reputation as one of the premier consultants in the fields of plant performance optimization, reliability engineering, predictive maintenance and effective management. He has more than 35 years of direct experience in corporate management, process design and troubleshooting. For the past 16 years, he has helped hundreds of clients worldwide achieve and sustain world-class performance. Keith can be reached at [email protected].    

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