4 Steps to Emotionally Realized Rational Decisions

Should rational decision making of intelligent business leaders include their gut feelings and emotions?

As a business leader or manager you generally learn that decisions and actions based on rationally considered criterion are important for business success.

Identifying a problem and evaluating and weighing various options, clarifying goals and objectives, assessing resources and alternatives, qualifying potential outcomes and developing an implementation plan are all logical and rational steps in an effective process.

Does Rational Decision Making Include Emotions?

The definition of rational includes phrases such as ‘in accordance with reason’ or ‘following from logic’. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines rational as being agreeable to reason or understanding and ‘based on facts or reason and not on emotions or feelings’.

If you examine a ‘rational planning model’ the process involves many steps that are sequential, logical and systematic.

For example a rational decision making process could involve the steps of:

  • Identifying a problem or opportunity
  • Gathering information
  • Analyzing the situation
  • Developing options and alternatives
  • Evaluating these options and alternatives
  • Selecting the preferred alternative (including an A and B plan)
  • Taking action to implement the decision

This is a fairly straightforward and effective process. And, in fact, it is an appropriate process. Nowhere in this process does it say to stop and consider your feelings or emotions.

There are many business leaders who act based on the presumption that a logical decision should not involve personal emotions; that a ‘rational decision maker’ puts aside emotions to focus on the information, options and facts.

For a long time that is just what business schools trained leaders to be able to do; to step back and objectively evaluate the information and then take logical and rational steps to act. And indeed this is a good process to follow.

While it would be fair to think that good business plans and decisions put aside emotions in most cases that thinking would simply be wrong.

While it may be true that the most logical of people take steps to remove emotions from a decision the bottom line is that for almost all people it is simply not possible to remove emotions from the process and, in fact, decisions that include emotions such as empathy are often highly effective ones.

A Hunch and A Gut Feeling

Whether or not you are aware of them all most all people’s thought process always involve emotions.

There are very successful business leaders who report that they had a ‘hunch’ or a ‘gut feeling’ when making a decision. Those hunches and gut feelings may be the result of practiced reasoning and experience but those experiences were filtered through a lens of emotions and the decision to listen to and trust those hunches and gut feelings also includes emotions.

Lets take a look at where a hunch or gut feeling comes from.

A hunch is often considered to come from ones head (brain) and a gut feeling from the visceral sense or autonomic nervous system.

A Hunch:

Your brain, that seat of decision-making and behaviour control, is not a calm and rational place.

Within your brain are many systems including your limbic systems that are constantly impacting how you process the world around and within. Your limbic system resided in your brain but it is tied into your emotions, behaviour, motivation, long-term memory and even smell. If you smell a familiar scent a brief emotion associated with that event seep into your brain and your rational decision making process.

When making a decision and evaluating past experiences and learning you are tapping into that limbic system to recall the information.

When you consider your reasons for a decision you are connecting to what motivates you and that is based on many factors including your personality, early socialization and past experiences.

Next page: 4 Steps For More Emotionally Realized Rational Decisions


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