I read this interesting quote the other day: “There is a form of folly that is the absence of everything except our rationality.” I never really subscribed to the clear-cut distinction between rational and emotional (and research shows us that emotions are actually located in specific and trackable portions of the brain).
I do agree that ultimately being “only rational” is a sure way to become dysfunctional. In fact I often feel that our ability to think strategically and critically needs to assess not only our cognitive abilities, but also our feelings or emotional states. Or does it?
TO DISAGREE OR NOT TO DISAGREE?
Some situations reveal the complex interplay of our cognitive and emotional abilities and resist simple labels: think about a time when you were in doubt about whether or not to disagree with your direct supervisor on an important decision.
- Was your thinking rooted in emotions?
- Was your thinking a simple rational calculation based in data?
- What did influence your decision to step in or not into a potentially dangerous situation?
- What role did emotional evaluation played in that choice?
I can imagine the negative consequences that might come my way if I disagree with my boss. Maybe the fear of reprimand plays an important role in my thinking about this and will influence it. Feeling fear is not a nice place to be: how does one deal productively with such a strong emotional response? I think we find the answer in “emotionally intelligent” critical thinking.
I believe that is ultimately our ability to reflect about the crucial link between intelligence and emotions what will allow me to think well in that situation, and maybe muster the courage to take the risk.
THINKING WELL AS INTERPLAY OF INTELLIGENCE AND EMOTIONS
Emotions are not more or less important than thoughts; the fact is that if we want to change a feeling, we need to understand it. To do so it might be helpful to identify the thinking that ultimately leads to the feeling. So in a situation like the one described we might want to ask ourselves:
- What purpose does my decision to disagree/agree serve in this situation?
- What feelings are surfacing for me as I think about this?
- What is the risk that I believe I am dealing with here?
- What has been the outcome of similar behaviors in this same context?
- What is the worst that can happen if I decide to take this risk?
- What am I revealing about myself with my decision to take or not take this risk?
- How can I claim my “part of the mess” in this situation?
- What would taking responsibility look like in this situation?
- Where would that lead?
If you think that you can’t prevent a bad decision in a meeting with your boss, then you will feel satisfied and decide not to take any risk. Again your assessment of the situation – based on your thinking – will allow you to feel content and satisfied (not taking any risk) or motivated and driven towards a different outcome enough to put yourself on the line (taking the risk). In a sense this process mimics learning: but a different kind, a learning re-imagined that integrates thinking and feeling in its dynamic.
THINKING WELL AS POWER
Notice how your “emotional intelligent” thinking about your organization/team/department influences the outcome and –ultimately – gives you or not the power to make a difference in the situation.
In situation A when you think that they “don’t get it” and that no matter what is decided, it will make no difference: your behavior will make that thought come true and you will feel satisfied with your decision not to speak up. This is no matter how wrong the final outcome might turn out to be.
In situation B when you think exactly the same but feel that that particular decision is very important to you, and that your organization is really not that horrible and that its mission might be worth risking something, then your choice will be different.
I wish you a courageous and creative new year!
Adriano understands how to increase your returns on leadership. He works with professionals in world-class organizations that include Philip Morris, Microsoft, the World Bank, Johns Hopkins University, the US Marine Corps, the State Department and NASA. A skilled experiential educator with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of ParticipAction Consulting, Inc., a firm committed to help clients redefine change, collaboration and power in their organizations. He co-authored "Teachable Moments of Leadership" with Jill Hufnagel in 2016, on a learning methodology that gets results by going from PowerPoint to …powerful!