Much has been written about the way we make decisions and the way we are wired to first respond emotionally and then to evaluate logically.
Leaders need to understand the difference between their own emotional responses and their logical thinking. Developing self-awareness and mindfulness to discern between the two is essential for solid decision-making.
There are many, many thinking traps that interfere with rational, logical and methodical thought processes. Many of these, especially in the heat of the moment, aren’t even recognized. Sometimes we recognize the emotional thinking traps but dismiss or justify them.
Societally, all sorts of messages encourage us to prioritize emotion over logical thought. YOLO… The heart wants what the heart wants… Follow your heart… These are just a few examples of popular sentiments that encourage emotional rationalizations for doing whatever we feel like doing.
Sometimes, these responses may be appropriate. However, responsible leaders ought to have the ability to recognize when they are putting emotion into the driver’s seat.
When emotions override logic without being checked first, these thinking traps can derail leaders.
Emotional Reasoning: You’ll know you’re caught in this trap if you are interpreting reality based on the way you feel. We’ve all done this. When we are in an upbeat mood, we take small incidents in stride. We handle them effortlessly and don’t invest too much energy in them. But on a day when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, those identical incidents can loom large and seem to require Herculean effort to tackle. The only difference is our own emotional state. An objective interpretation of reality would likely show these incidents to be somewhere in the middle. If we could start there, viewing the situation for what it is and without being led by our emotions, we would be more effective every time (not just when our mood is favorable).
Biased Filtering: Emotional responses also trap most of us at times. When this happens, we filter information in accordance with our bias. We ignore positive information about that political candidate we disagree with and, conversely, we justify negative information about the candidate we back. In the workplace, we have to be careful not to allow emotional overrides to lead to biased filtering that comes through in performance reviews or interactions with our colleagues.
Personalizing: This thinking trap turns your emotional responses against you. If you are taking constructive feedback as a personal attack, for example, you may be allowing emotional triggers to kick in when logical evaluation would serve you better.
Blaming and Shaming: These are dangerous emotional responses that can sound like they are driven by logic but are almost always driven by negative emotions. Whether self-directed or outwardly projected, blame and shame are usually useless. Diagnostically, determining what can be done differently the next time will take you farther faster than assigning blame and causing shame. People who get caught in this thinking trap are often unable to contribute positively.
Understanding your emotions and the impact they can have on your decisions will enable you to avoid these thinking traps. Don’t ignore your feelings and attempt to replace them with clinical logic. Rather, embrace your emotions and handle them in a proportion that is appropriate to the situation at hand. Balance reason and emotion to avoid being caught in these thinking traps.
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