“You are being emotional!” How often have you heard that, especially in the workplace. It’s like emotions are a bad thing. Logic versus emotion, what a tricky choice, indeed.
As we’re often told, they’re on two ends of the spectrum. However, surprise, surprise - neuroscientists have lately pointed out, your ‘logical’ decisions are also governed by emotion.
Emotions play a crucial role in decision-making. It is commonly believed that they are a deterrent in ‘logical’ decision-making. People tend to think that they’re better without them. And so, they try to suppress and avoid them. However, as Monica Mahi Mathijs, wellness expert and emotional intelligence practitioner based in Dubai explains it, emotions form a fundamental part of our everyday lives, be it in a personal or professional setting. Emotions are created when the brain interprets what’s going on around us through our memories, thoughts and beliefs. This compels us to feel and behave the way we do.
Emotions are often just construed as excitement, joy, anger or sadness that can affect decision and judgements. However, emotions can also mean peace, calm and mindfulness.
How can we regulate and guide our emotions to make the right decisions at the workplace?
‘Emotions are not the enemy of decision-making’
Where would we be without emotions?
Recently, research was conducted by Portuguese-American psychologist Antonio Damasio to show the importance of emotions in decision-making. He concluded that in the absence of emotional markers, decision-making is virtually impossible. Without emotions to drive and motivate us, we would be rather passive and probably do nothing. Our decisions are guided by our emotional state, his research showed. Damasio asserts that emotions and feelings are central to human beings and that feelings arise owing to how the brain interprets emotions.
“As we understand the value of emotions and the nuances involved in making decisions, we see that emotions are not the enemy,” explains Kristen Coakley, a leadership coach and the co-president for Ellevate Dubai, an international women’s network.She emphasises the importance of striking a balance between emotional and rational thinking to create well-informed decisions that are aligned with our long-term values and goals. Look at your emotions as a guide, as it points to what matters most to you and aligns with your values. It’s a compass, but don’t let it dictate your decision-making. That’s where you have to enlist the help of your rational thinking as well.
Emotions serve as signals from our subconscious mind, and draw attention to what is important to us, explains Coakley further. “This is another critical insight that can support making decisions that are not only fact-based, but also right for us as a person,” she says.
For instance, what do we look for when we accept a job? It’s not just the location, salary and industry. We also take into account the company’s culture, and how these factors align with our own career aspirations and personal values.
What happens when we don’t pay heed to our emotions?
“At times, we may be completely unaware of the impact emotions have, especially in the workplace,” says Mathijs. In crucial moments of decision-making, we go into fight-or-flight mode. We are in a hurry to make a decision, as we feel a certain amount of emotion, which if not regulated, takes control of us. In our rage, we take hasty and impulsive decisions. In sadness, we decide to settle for something that we never wanted. In our fear, we don’t think of the consequences, and quickly make a decision.
When decision-making is done without considering emotions, there can be unexpected emotional responses that can derail otherwise sound decisions, explains Coakley. “This can include both our own emotional responses, such as why we’re not happy or committed to a decision or fears that we have not explored,” she says.
When decision-making is done without considering emotions, there can be unexpected emotional responses that can derail otherwise sound decisions. This can include both our own emotional responses, such as why we’re not happy or committed to a decision or fears that we have not explored
For instance, leaders have to make decisions every day, regarding hiring, firings, and allocations of budgets on projects among others. “And many a times, I’ve seen leaders rush through decision-making and later wish that they had spent more time on a problem before making the decision. They wish that they had given themselves some mental space before reacting to a situation,” explains Mathijs.
If emotions aren’t acknowledged or processed, it can cloud decision-making because leaders can find themselves in situations which result in making decisions based on biases and subjectivity, being impulsive in making decisions, becoming fearful of taking risks, and making inconsistent decisions, due to differing moods and emotions, says Mathijs.
According to the Harvard Business Review studies in 2022, this ‘quick decision-making’ was seen as partly an avoidance strategy by people. They did not want to sit with the ‘uncomfortable feelings’ of making difficult and complex decisions. However, in the end, this leads to making poor decisions, as we do not solve the problem at hand and resulting in feeling worse. This “bookends” our decision with negative feelings, which include anxiety, depression and that finally results in burnout.
So in order to overcome this negative idea of book-ending, you can use it to your advantage, explains the Review. Often, when we’re trying to solve a difficult problem, we struggle with a lot of information, especially our own complicated emotions. So for starters, identify what is the decision that you actually need to make. Secondly, identify the emotions surrounding the decision.
What is the most pervasive fear? Anxiety? Fear? Overwhelmed? Once you have a name for this feeling, there’s a little more space and distance between your emotions and actions. And so, while you acknowledge the emotion, you aren’t letting it drive the decision, and instead, you have full control over your conscious thought and agency. Imagine the success of your decision, and now you can slowly start evaluating it in a calmer light. Apply the emotional bookends.
And so, emotional bookending is a crucial tool that helps you name and acknowledge negative emotions, instead of burying or running away from them. In other words, be in partnership with your emotions rather than being driven by them.
This is crucial for building emotional intelligence at the workplace.
Why is there a need for emotional intelligence at the workplace?
if your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.
American psychologist Daniel Goleman, who is often associated with the concept of emotional intelligence, had once written these words.
Emotional Intelligence require leaders to take proactive steps and actions to think differently and become self-aware, says Mathijs. When employees see their leaders as being open, honest and authentic, they feel they can trust them, and they begin to feel part of an organisation which they want to be part of.
There is a particular need for managers and leaders especially to imbibe the ideas of emotional intelligence. “This can improve their ability to understand their own emotions, empathise and consider different perspectives and lead to more informed and rational decision-making,” says Coakley. “It provides leaders with tools, insights, abilities to gain a sense of awareness, step back before responding, deciding or acting,” she says.
How to build emotional intelligence at the workplace
“Once we gain an awareness of why we do the things we do, it creates a shift in how people understand themselves and their emotions which in turn enables them to understand others,” explains Mathijs. Emotional intelligence can help workplaces by driving better communication, improving teamwork, enhancing leadership all the way through to create better resilience. “With such benefits, it makes us realise that building this ability can have widespread impact across the workplace,” she adds.
Once we gain an awareness of why we do the things we do, it creates a shift in how people understand themselves and their emotions which in turn enables them to understand others
Mathijs explains ways in which leaders can build their Emotional Intelligence to help themselves and the wider organisation:
• Building self-awareness is about being aware of the way people feel and the impact their feelings can have on decisions, behaviour and performance. This can be done by learning their triggers, reflecting on the day on what could have been done differently.
• Gaining an awareness of others by perceiving, understanding and acknowledging the way others feel. We feel valued, listened to, cared for, and understood. This can be done by making eye-contact, noticing body language, creating quality time for employees and encouraging one-on-ones with the team.
• Learning self-regulation to control responses and act from a place of insight and understanding. Choose your words carefully, step back before responding.
• Becoming more empathetic by looking at the world through the eyes of others. Putting themselves in the shoes of others, to understand and respond with awareness and compassion.
• Showing authenticity by being open and effectively expressing oneself, honouring commitments and encouraging this behaviour in others. Own up to mistakes.