Here’s how emotions can make a powerful decision-making ally.
When making corporate decisions – when should you consider your gut?
The answer is easy. Always.
Contrary to popular belief, embracing your instincts at work – and, yes, acknowledging your feelings – can lead to more effective decision-making. But, like other levels of thinking, there is a time and a place for this type of articulation.
Read on to learn more about how tapping into your instincts can give you a leg up in corporate planning, strategy, decision making and discussions.
What are your senses trying to tell you?
How often have you said “I have a gut feeling about…”, “My ‘Spidey senses’ were tingling” or that “Every instinct was screaming at me”?
When you make these statements, you are acknowledging the powerful insights that our emotions offer. These are our instant, instinctual responses to stimulus. They are what we as facilitators call the reflective level of thinking.
When I offer group and strategic facilitation, I use a model called the Technology of Participation TOP® It offers a chronological methodology for clear thinking that we facilitators affectionately refer to as O R I D.
- O is the objective level of thinking.
- R is the reflective level of thinking.
- I is the interpretive level of thinking.
- D is the decisional level of thinking.
It is surprisingly easy to tap into the reflective level of thinking and insightful and enabling when we do – especially when it comes after the objective (or facts-based) level of thinking and before the interpretive and decisional levels of thinking.
I will go so far as to say it will be a relief to the people in your group to be given an opportunity to share this very essential level of thinking openly. You’ll make better decisions too.
You tap into your survival-level reaction
The first level of thinking, the objective (O) level is the facts, data, external information that is readily available to us. This is the grounding level information that ensures we have a common starting point in a discussion. Without objective levels of thinking, conversations become fuzzy. I wrote about this in a previous blog, The Level-Setting Toolkit.
The reflective (R) level of thinking is the next level of thinking. It’s the internal response that we have to objective-level data. Put simply, it is our emotional reaction to things we hear, see, touch, taste, read, and observe.
It is an essential level of thinking that originates in our limbic brain, also known as our primitive brain, that is responsible for our fight or flight responses. The limbic brain is what we have relied on for survival for millennia and serves humans well.
In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman calls this our “fast brain.” This brain responds very quickly, very instinctively and not simplistically. This brain values memory (reflective) more than experience (objective).
The reflective response associates the objective data to something else, creates an emotional response or conjures up images. In short – it mines our internal responses to give additional context to objective data.
Why do we shy away from emotions?
Curiously, the reflective level of thinking is marginalized in the workplace. We are often uncomfortable with anything emotional and have many methods for shutting down emotional responses.
We label it unprofessional. We ask people to park emotions at the door. We say, “It’s just business, what’s the big deal?” In fact, internal communications are typically asked to steer clear of any language that’s remotely emotional and stick with clinically professional expressions.
As proof of this orientation, I was sharing the ORID model with a group recently, and a participant said “Wouldn’t it just be easier if we skipped the reflective level all together?”
That is a good question — should we skip it? Absolutely not – and I’ll tell you why.
Why we need the reflective level of thinking?
We must observe and respect the feelings because they keep us out of trouble, they prevent cyclical thinking and they broaden our creativity and decision-making skills.
Our emotional response keeps us safe.
When we miss the reflective level of thinking, we overlook key insights and leave critical information out. For example, if we don’t pay attention to the immediate revulsion we experience at the smell of bad meat, we risk making ourselves sick.
The same is true when making a call in the boardroom. If changing the price of a product is giving you chills (and not the good kind), take that as a red flag that you may need to explore the data and rationale a little closer before making the final call.
Our emotional responses get us unstuck.When groups ignore the reflective level, they often become stuck. You would know this situation if you’ve ever seen it. It looks like silence, polite conversations, dialogue without conviction, big white elephants and simmering anger.
Groups can get caught in a place of subordinated, unarticulated thoughts which can show up in toxic and unproductive places later.
Recently, a client invited me to help them with team development activity. They alluded to some past issues that had a new group struggling. The client did not want to explore the past, preferring to focus on the future, which is incredibly rational, normal and feels more productive.
The difficulty for this group is that the emotions were unexplored and had gone underground.
The result? The group was politely professional, engaging in safe dialogue and unable to build the quality of relationships they needed to tackle the sizeable project ahead of them. They were stuck.
Our emotional responses help stimulate higher levels of thinking
In the example above, we would have been far better to dig into the issue and risk some emotional statements in order to move the group forward. A group simply can’t move to higher orders of development, thinking and behaviour if it is stuck at the reflective level.
Importantly, they can’t tap into additional creativity and decision making capacity if their reflective state is buried.
Won’t this lead to messy, emotional chaos?
When I teach facilitation skills, students express fear and trepidation at exploring the reflective level of thinking in their work environments. They do not want to ask people how they feel. They fear opening a pandora’s box of chaos.
So, how do we let the reflective level of thinking into our organizations without turning into a sobbing, hysterical, fist shaking mass of humanity? How can we tap into this brilliant and essential level of thinking to enhance and improve our outcomes?
Next time you’re engaging with a team, try this approach.
Alternate positive and negative questions
The best ways to tap into the reflective level of thinking is to ask questions which mine for emotions.
Ask a question that asks for a positive, emotional response and then one that asks for a negative emotional response in your next conversation and see what additional insight emerges. Make sure you ask for both sides of the emotion to get a complete picture.
Here are some examples:
- What do you like about that? What do you dislike about that?
- What are you optimistic about? Pessimistic about?
- What are you excited about? Worried about?
- What are you feeling positive about? Negative about?
- What is an association that you are making?
- What images are coming to mind for you?
- What is a metaphor that captures your thinking right now?
Treat your own deep-seated reactions as a friend, not a foe, next time you’re working in a group setting.
You may be surprised at the productive path it will lead you down.
What success have you found when following your instincts in the workplace? What barriers do you face from doing so? Feel free to share in the comments below.
About Robin Parsons: I’m a certified ToP® facilitator with a decade of experience in business facilitation. I’m here to help your corporate team define problems and solutions, plan clear paths forward on complex projects and fully leverage the expertise in your group. If you’d like to explore what facilitated strategic planning services or group facilitation could look like in your organization, contact me.