How Emotions Shape Decision-Making

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Many people I work with ask the question, “Don’t emotions interfere with good decision-making?”  This article, generously shared by my partner at the Intentional Workplace, explains the process. 

There is little disagreement that effective decision-making is one of the most important tasks we must master to achieve success in every part of life.

If we were to take a survey in the average workplace to poll what people believed was most needed for effective decision-making, which of these do you think would top the list?

  • Factual information?
  • Risk assessment?
  • Clear thinking?
  • Limited emotional interference?

If you chose the last item, I’d like you to reconsider.

In his book, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (first published in 1994)  one of the world’s top neuroscientists, Antonio Damasio, profiled his patient, Elliott, one of his most well-known cases.  Formerly a successful businessman, model father and husband, Elliott suffered from ventromedial frontal lobe damage as a result of a tumor and subsequent surgery for removal.

Following his operation, Elliot dispassionately reported to Damasio that his life was falling apart.  While still in the 97th percentile for IQ, Elliot lacked all motivation. His marriage collapsed as did each new business he started.  Damasio found Elliott an “uninvolved spectator” in his own life, “He was always controlled. Nowhere was there a sense of his own suffering, even though he was the protagonist. I never saw a tinge of emotion in my many hours of conversation with him: no sadness, no impatience, no frustration.”

It was clear to Damasio that as a result of his surgery, Elliot was incapable of making decisions“Elliott emerged as a man with a normal intellect who was unable to decide properly, especially when the decision involved personal or social matters.” Even small decisions were fraught with endless deliberation: making an appointment took 30 minutes, choosing where to eat lunch took all afternoon, even deciding which color pen to use to fill out office forms was a chore.  Turns out Elliott’s lack of emotion paralyzed his decision-making.

In the preface to the 2005 edition of Descartes Error, Damasio wrote, Today this idea [that emotion assists the reasoning process] does not cause any raised eyebrows. However, while this idea may not raise any eyebrows today among neuroscientists, I believe it’s still a surprise to the general public.  We’re trained to regard emotions as irrational impulses that are likely to lead us astray.  When we describe someone as “emotional,” it’s usually a criticism that suggests that they lack good judgment.  And the most logical and intelligent figures in popular culture are those who exert the greatest control over their emotions–or who seem to feel no emotions at all.”

Although neuroscience has built a strong body of evidence over twenty-five years to demonstrate the inextricable link between reason, emotion and decision-making most of mainstream culture still doesn’t get it.  Continue reading

5 Ways Using Neuroscience Improves Coaching

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While there are critics of neuroscience and its interpretations who worry about the “culture’s obsession with the brain and how we have elevated the vital organ into cultish status, mythologizing its functions and romanticizing the promise of its scientific study,” there is unquestionably a place for neuroscience in the coaching relationship.

In  full disclosure I am a coach and organizational development consultant and not a neuroscientist, but I have a passion for social neuroscience. And I’m well informed about the most recent research – so much so, that it has become an integral part of my coaching and consulting practice.

On a purely practical level I’ve found that every coaching experience can benefit from learning and integrating some key principles from the growing field of neuroscience.   Perhaps one of the greatest “revelations” for many coaching clients is the understanding that they can shift their thoughts and feelings and change behavior. Continue reading

The First Step In Leading Others Is To Self-Manage

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How aware are you of how you talk to yourself as you go about your daily activities? Typically, most of us are focused on what’s directly in front of us – and not aware of our internal narrative.

Last week, after speaking about the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behavior to a group of managers, one member of the group approached me and asked, “ I see how thoughts directly affect what I eventually do, that how I talk to myself will determine my behavior, but…how do I manage those thoughts that have negative consequences in my life?”

My first thought was how can I answer the question and stay on point with the discussion at hand – What makes a leader outstanding?  I recalled a conversation I had with a CEO who shared his belief that the key to leadership was understanding that self-reflection was not an end in itself – but an ability to process the difficult, challenging and complex.

The question – and my recollection of the CEO’s experience helped to remind me that the first step in becoming an outstanding leader is being able to manage one’s internal processes through self-reflection. Self-reflection is the key to understanding the relationship between our mindset  and our internal voice.

Everyone engages in self-talk .  We all have an inner voice, but most of us don’t pay attention to the contents of our inner narrative. Outstanding leaders do. For example, not only are they aware of the “data points” in a discussion, they are also tuned into their internal process and external behavior. In other words, they’re self-aware and able to witness their experience in the moment.

Ask yourself, how many times during the day do I stop to pause and mindfully witness my experience in the moment? What beliefs and assumptions am I holding that may be limiting my performance and affecting workplace relationships? How much am I in touch with my needs and values and are they being satisfied? How do I act when they’re not?

These questions along with our emotions, attitudes, desires, hopes and our interpretations of external experience are the key elements that form our internal process – our personal mindsets. Continue reading

5 Things Leaders Are Not Taught Pt 1

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Recently, a participant in one of my seminars excitedly exclaimed to one of his colleagues, This stuff is great…we should have learned this ten years ago!”

He was referring to our discussion on some fundamental communication processes that underlie all human transactions occurring in the workplace, or for that matter, in all aspects of our lives.

In Part 1, I’ll focus on the first three as steps to enlightened leadership.

  • Reflective Consciousness
  • Thinking
  • Responsive Listening
  • Mindfulness Practice
  • Assertiveness

If you’ve been to leadership seminars in the past, some of these topics may look familiar, but they’re rarely explored in the depth needed to engage the complexity of human behavior in today’s workplace.

  • Reflective Consciousness

Being conscious is more than just being awake and aware of yourself and your surroundings. It  involves a deeper level of knowing and is one of the foundations of emotional intelligence.  It’s the ability, or if you prefer, competency – to bear witness to your experience in the moment.

In my work with senior level leaders and managers the one skill that is often missing in their leadership “tool” box is reflective consciousness. – the ability to be tuned into their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors in the moment.

For many of these leaders their successes often comes at a high cost, usually in the form of chronic stress.  While they are typically highly proficient in their area of expertise, they often are less comfortable and familiar with their own internal processes.   Without a commitment to deepen self-knowledge, these leaders tend to rely on fixed behavioral strategies and often feel frustrated when confronted with resistance from others.

Because self-knowledge can never be “mastered,” enlightened leaders understand that the commitment to inner learning is continuous. They also realize that a crucial pathway in the learning process comes through engaged commitment to relationships.

Increasingly, self-awareness is being recognized as the key element necessary for effective leadership.  In a  survey of 75 members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council rated self-awareness as the most important capability for leaders to develop. The authors of this study concluded that self-awareness is the inevitable starting point for managing one’s psychological preferences. Without it, executives will struggle to evolve or find coping strategies.  Continue reading

Boxed In By Self-Deception?

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 “We define self-deception as not knowing – and resisting the possibility – that one has a problem Arbinger Institute

Have you ever wondered if there was a missing ingredient that could improve your relationships – in the workplace and beyond?

Well, it wasn’t until I came across the book, Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box, written by The Arbinger Institute, that I was able to put my finger on an important part of the puzzle.  – Self Deception.  Not that it’s THE ANSWER, but it can go a long way in changing the quality and nature of your relationships.

Understanding how acts of self-deception affect our perception of others is the first step.  This can give us insights into recognizing the behaviors that can lead us to treat people more as objects – means to our end – and not living breathing human beings with needs just like our own.

It is easy to get caught up in the endless “doing” of work and lose sight of who is at the other end of our “transaction”.  Managers, even seasoned ones, who pride themselves on their results orientation, can lose their focus seeing interactions between people – as tasks.  Another workplace reality is that we simply do not “gel” with or even like, some of our co-workers – all the more reason to see past their humanness. Continue reading