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Emotional vs Rational Decision-Making

The volume of data and ambiguity involved in decision-making today can be overwhelming, causing emotions to override a more rational approach. However, recent research suggests that emotional or intuitive decision-making has a much greater place in business than has previously been recognised; the key is to know when and how to use it.

Emotional and rational decision-making have been pitted against each other for decades, In Kahneman’s book, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, they are described as two separate systems of thinking; an emotional and intuitive process which happens first followed by the slower and more effortful process of rational logic.

This slower, more analytical process is often seen as superior but studies into emotions and decision-making have found evidence that we cannot make decisions based on rationality alone. Whilst we can all think of times when emotion has overruled rational considerations, we often overlook the fact that arguments that speak to our emotions often have a much deeper effect.

Instead of two separate systems, recent research suggests they are in fact inextricably linked and effectively harnessing the emotional and intuitive aspects of a decision can lead to better outcomes; for example:

– By enabling leaders to make quick decisions
– By helping to see the emotional elements in decisions, including the impact upon others
– By allowing leaders to drive decisions when interests and options conflict
– In each of the examples given, our emotions act as an internal barometer, enabling us to react quickly or attend to aspects of the decision that may have been omitted

So how do we balance this constructive emotional response with the need for logical analysis in today’s complex and chaotic world?

Our advice is to:

  • Consciously assess your emotional response to a decision – is it driven by experience and intuition or providing insight into how others might respond?
  • Delay emotive decisions where possible – emotions can be short-lived so give yourself time to reflect before making your final decision
  • Seek out alternative viewpoints or options to ensure any unconscious biases are not leading you astray
  • Increase your self-awareness – ask for feedback to understand your emotional triggers and therefore discern when best to follow your instincts or ignore
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