Updated: Sep 23, 2020
Our clever brains can justify so much of our behavior that our experience, past success, technical knowledge, and power of position easily overrule our momentary flash of self-awareness. We see this every day. And every single one of us needs to know how to create and work with our unique self-regulation capabilities.
But as we know, knowing isn’t doing. We need to be sure we incorporate what we know about effective decision making and EQ into every important decision. And we need to teach those who report to us how to do this as well.
Oprah’s guests tell us not to go to bed angry. Common sense tells us not to berate the boss or customers publicly. Isn’t it too bad we don’t have an early warning system to keep us from making decisions when our emotions, positive or negative, are in control?
Our brains have the most amazing design for handling enormous amounts of data: the ability to apply logic tests, mathematics and physics principles and formulae, and deduce wonderfully rational outcomes. However, introduce emotions to the process and we are highly susceptible to making all sorts of bias errors (see our Thinking Traps Part 1 and 2.) And emotions are always part of the process, like it or not.
We intuitively know we are subject to bias errors. Yet when we strongly feel the need to make a decision, we suspend our intuition and move forward. This is precisely the moment when we need to stop and check our thought processes.
Neuroscience tells us that decisions don’t simply arrive when the neocortex has run all the data through its remarkable processing neuro networks. Our brains do not work like computers that find high quality answers by running elaborate, complete, and well-designed algorithms. Decisions are highly dependent on the limbic system part of the brain called the amygdala. This area houses our emotions. It affects what we believe and what we believe affects our emotional reaction to just about everything.
How Does EQ Help? For this article, we address two factors of Daniel Goleman’s widely used model of Emotional Intelligence, or EQ: ⦁ Self-awareness ⦁ Self-regulation
Understanding your emotional response to the context and content of a decision -- that is, your level of self-awareness -- is the foundation of effectiveness. If you are the decision maker, interrupting the process to consciously assess how you are feeling about the process, the participants, the risks, and potential outcomes will provide you with invaluable information about how to proceed. Having an open conversation with others involved in the decision about how they feel about it can be an eye opener. Just as having that conversation with a customer, where appropriate, can reveal insight that you absolutely must use to proceed effectively.
Self-awareness without the ability to self-regulate is of limited value. Knowing that you are about to drive off a cliff is not very useful if you cannot or will not stop yourself. While it is fairly easy to see the presence or absence of this factor in others, it is often challenging to see it in ourselves.