Confronting Emotions and Making Decisions

Emotions are a unique and essential part of humanity. They affect the way we make decisions and in turn, affect our corporations and communities. But what are emotions exactly? How do emotions affect our decisions, and how can we manage emotions effectively when making important choices? Continue reading for the answer.



What are emotions?

Emotions, according to Lisa Barrett, are physical, psychological, and social reactions taking place in both the body and mind (Barrett, 2012). For example, if you are given an award you are likely to physically smile. This smile supports a neurological rush of dopamine, commonly called the feel-good hormone, and tells the community near you that you are pleased.


Emotions are a full-body experience with intricate neurological components and important effects on the way an individual sees the world and makes decisions. They incorporate the use of our biology, physiology, and community to help us navigate the world around us.

Emotions can also be classified into two separate groups:

  1. The first group is state-emotions. These are the type of emotions commonly referred to in non-academic circles. These emotions are based solely on the situation an individual is placed in (Wang et al., 2016)

  2. There are also dispositional emotions. These are the general emotions that an individual is prone to having regardless of the situation (Wang et al., 2016). For example, an individual diagnosed with anxiety might have a dispositional tendency to be anxious.

By understanding that we have emotions based on the things we experience and our own base-line dispositions, we can realize that emotions do not happen to us, but are our reactions on a complex physiological, biological, and social level. This realization gives us the ability to look at our emotions as a tool rather than the single guidepost in making important decisions.


How do emotions affect our decision-making process?

According to Wang, Gu, Luo, and Zhou, “Human emotions play a powerful role in the decision-making process” (2016). The emotions we feel and experience on a daily basis are not isolated sensations. They have the ability to affect major decisions and have a great impact on our business, relationships, and goal achievements.


Wang et al.’s study sought to investigate the influence of state emotions on decision-making processes in those with high and low anxiety emotional dispositions. Their research was done with 121 students and the use of facial expression photos paired with high and low bet amounts.


After analyzing the data collected, it was found that “participants spent more time to make decisions in expression conditions compared to the control condition” (Wang et al., 2016). This means that the energy, which should have gone into the decision at hand, instead went to processing the facial cue that was presented. Because of this, it took more time for participants to make decisions when also processing emotions.


In the corporate view, this isn’t inherently a bad thing but it does require that the increased need for time is accounted for in decision-making situations. Instantaneous decisions are made without full use of available cognitive resources, which could potentially lead to failures or poor decisions for an executive leader.


Another significant finding in this research article was that participants were more likely to expect higher gains when given positive facial expressions (Wang et al., 2016). In the marketing world, this technique is avidly used. When we want to make a sale or receive benefits in general, we smile at the individual we are communicating with. It is common sense that this will help sales and gains, but when applied to more complex decisions it is easy to see how we can be on the receiving end of this unintended manipulation. When making important decisions, it is important to ensure that you or your audience’s disposition is not influencing your decisions in an unhealthy way. It is possible for both parties to be genuinely happy at a communal agreement, but it is important to check-the-facts and look at the long-term consequences of the decision without regard to current state-emotions.


An article from Psychology Today written by Shahram Heshmat summarizes the broad effects that emotions can have on decisions well: “Certain vulnerable situations tend to trigger impulsive choices. By becoming more aware of our emotions, we experience ourselves as free rather than victims.” -Shahram Ph.D.


From his perspective, emotions can “influence judgments” because they are tied to previous experiences. He calls this “Mood-Congruent Memory” (Heshmat, 2019). By recognizing the potential bias we hold towards certain situations, we can accurately address decision-making situations with this in mind. For example, imagine that the leader of a corporation has had negative experiences with one contracting company. The failings of this contracting company left them feeling disappointed and stressed due to the increased amount of work caused by their failings. Because of this, they are hesitant to engage other contracting companies. If this corporation’s leader takes into account the emotions they experienced with the previous contracting company and factually realizes that one contracting company cannot represent all of them, they are more likely to consider engaging in a different contracting company that will better suit their needs. By addressing previously experienced emotions, corporate leaders are empowered to make new decisions, learn from previous failures, and pursue new opportunities without bias.


How can we address our emotions effectively?


First, Recognize

By recognizing the emotional experience at hand, business leaders can begin the process of decision-making with the potential effects discussed earlier in mind. In an article from Forbes Magazine, Erik Larson elaborates on this. He states that the emotion of anger can cause teams to be “distracted by unimportant information and leap to short-sighted solutions” (2018). By recognizing the anger before experiencing these negative side effects, the emotion can be properly handled thus minimizing the potential negative effects.


Second, Confront

Larson recommends writing down the emotions you are experiencing as a start of emotional recognition. By naming and engaging the emotion that is present, you can gain a wider perspective of the situation and all potential outcomes while avoiding emotional biases and wasting energy. He claims that after writing down your emotions, you can begin the processes toward a calmer more thought-out decision that is based on facts and realistic outcomes. Furthermore, writing down the effect that these emotions are having on your thoughts regarding the decision at hand allows you to gain a better understanding of the potential biases you may hold towards viable options.


Third, Adjust

After recognizing and confronting the emotions at hand, it is important to adjust your position as needed. If upon the realization that you hold a potential negative bias fueled by the emotions from past experiences, adjust your focus to include the options again if appropriate. Are the negative emotions you hold toward a certain decision based on current facts and potential outcomes, or are they inconclusive with the current situation? If the emotional reactions held toward options available are not based on current facts and inclusive, consider changing your position to include this option again.


What does it all mean?

While emotions are complex and essential to our functioning, they can also be misused in the decision-making process. With the research discussed in this article, we can see that emotional processing takes up valuable energy, emotional states can manipulate our decisions without proper evidence, and previously experienced emotions can be tied to current decisions—even when they don’t correlate with the current situation. Because of this, it is important to recognize the emotions we are experiencing, confront our emotions by writing them down and analyzing their validity, and adjusting our positions based on our findings. By doing these things, we can further ensure that our decisions, while taking emotions into account, are based on factual evidence and current information regarding the decisions at hand.


References

Barrett, L. F. (2012). Emotions are real. Emotion, 12(3), 413–429. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0027555


Heshmat, S. (2019, December 10). 9 ways your Emotions influence your judgments. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201912/9-ways-your-emotions-influence-your-judgments#:~:text=Individual%20decisions%20are%20best%20understood,decide%20to%20keep%20you%20cool.


Larson, E. (2018, August 8). How The Most Common Emotions Affect Business Decision Making And What To Do About It. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriklarson/2017/03/21/how-common-emotions-affect-team-decision-making-and-what-to-do-about-it/?sh=2d4195172896.


Wang, Y., Gu, R., Luo, Y.-jia, & Zhou, C. The interaction between state and dispositional emotions in decision making: An ERP study. Biological Psychology, 123, 126–135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2016.11.009


Barrett, L. F. The New Scientific Understanding of Emotions. Institute of Coaching. https://instituteofcoaching.org/resources/webinar-new-scientific-understanding-emotions.




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