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Emotions Affect Business Decision-Making: Here's What You Can Do About It

Erik Larson, Contributor, Forbes
April 24, 2017

We all know that our emotions affect our decisions. In fact, scientists have found that without emotions we become completely ineffective at making decisions.

Emotions also impact teamwork. That’s a big reason why recent research shows emotional intelligence is one of the strongest predictors of success at work. And the biggest problems arise when team decision making and emotions collide.

When it comes to decision-making, a little emotion is good, even if the emotions seem inherently unpleasant or unproductive. Feeling a little fear, sadness or irritation can help to spark motivation or broaden the search for alternatives.

On the flip side, a little too much emotion is generally bad, even if the emotions seem pleasant and productive. When an entire team of people is feeling curious, excited or confident, they are more likely to spend too much time admiring the view in their matching rose colored glasses, or happily make a decision to drive right off a cliff.

So, when you are working with your team to make a decision, it is critical to be aware of how the emotional state of people around the table affects the team’s approach to the decision. This is especially true when emotions are running high, or when everyone in the group is feeling the same way.

Use this list to keep perspective when emotions arise in team decision-making discussions at your company. It’s based on the most common emotions experienced by business decision-making teams, according to thousands of team decisions recorded in the Cloverpop business decision database.

Hopeful, interested, curious, excited, inspired = distracted and slow or excessively optimistic
These emotions feel good. Individually, they keep us going. The problem is not how they feel, but how they can affect decision-making behavior in groups. On the one hand, these emotions can create a sort of “fabulousness paralysis” where everyone is happily exploring different directions without moving the decision forward. On the other hand, if the right catalyzing person or event strikes a spark the group may rush forward, brushing off real risks, failing to consider other options and ultimately making decisions that fall short of expectations.

Anxious, stressed, worried, confused, unsure = motivated or solution-oriented
These emotions feel bad. But that is the source of their power when it comes to business decision-making. Except in extreme circumstances, these emotions motivate us to make a change, and they do a great job helping us come up with more alternatives. They are the source of the proverbial wisdom, “necessity is the mother of invention.” If your team isn’t feeling at least a bit stressed or unsure about a decision, chances are you aren’t trying hard enough to find a better way.

Confident, satisfied, pleased = great team building, poor results
Another set of feel-good vibes, and another mixed bag when it comes to decision-making. On the plus side, these emotions help build teams that stick together, which is a great asset when things go south. However, these emotions can really put a damper on good decision-making. A confident and satisfied team not only considers fewer alternatives, but they also do a worse job analyzing the options in front of them. And the longer a team feels this way, the worse it gets.

Irritated, angry – the seeds of dismissal and discontent
There’s not much good to say here. These emotions feel bad, and don’t do much good. Anger causes us to dismiss each other’s opinions and narrow our view of the world to match our feelings. This results in discontent even when everyone is angry together, since different people are angered by different things. Angry teams are easily distracted by unimportant information and leap to short-sighted solutions. Angry teams make bad decisions.

What to do? Involve other people and write things down
When it comes to decision-making, there are two approaches that almost always drive better results: ask other people for their perspectives, and write things down. Emotions are no different. Here’s what to do.

Our research shows that inviting five or so other people to weigh in on decisions helps create a more diverse and balanced emotional climate. The more people are involved, the less likely they’ll all be wearing rose colored glasses. This is one of the many ways diversity drives better decision-making.

At the same time, neuroimaging shows that when you write emotions down, you lessen their intensity. This not only mellows your own emotions, but also tempers your reaction to other people’s emotions. That’s perfect for better decision-making, since too much emotion is bad, but a little is good. Here’s how to take advantage of this neuroscience insight:

Good: Start small — just write down your own most intense three to five emotions. You’ll suddenly be a calmer, wiser version of yourself and make a better decision.

Better: Write down your own three to five emotions to mellow their impact. Then write down your guesses at how the emotions stirred up in other people. If you do this in real-time during a meeting, it will tamp down your own reactions to their short-sighted irritation or unfocused curiosity.

Best: Have everyone write down their top three to five emotions, and share the results anonymously with the group. This is hard to do in a meeting, but surveys or online software can make it easy before the meeting. This strategy combines the best of both worlds — it reduces emotional intensity for each person, and gives everyone a shared perspective. For bonus points, keep track over time, and take action if the team’s emotional climate takes a bad turn.

This article was written by Erik Larson from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

The information in this article is presented as-is and does not necessarily reflect the views of First Republic Bank.