How To Make A Tough (And Emotional) Decision

girl-1064659_1280By Samantha Harrington for Forbes

A month ago, my teammate and I made a really difficult decision while very emotional. Or maybe we made the decision and then got sad. Either way, from the outside it would have looked like fodder for all the Twitter trolls who say women can’t lead because they’re “too emotional.” They’d be wrong.

Looking back, a month removed from the moment we decided to pivot our business strategy, I’m grateful that we didn’t stop up the tear ducts and make a cold, emotionless decision.

But there’s a lot of debate in both psychology and business about the most effective role of emotion in decision making.

A study out of Carnegie Mellon found that when sad, people are willing to pay more money for things and sell things for less money than when their emotions were baseline. The researchers supplied participants with a pack of highlighters, induced different emotions and asked how much participants would sell or buy the highlighters for. The study found that people were willing to pay $1.98 more than at baseline emotion for the highlighters when sad and listed a selling price $2.95 less when sad.

Another study, this one from professors at Case Western, replicated risk by asking participants to choose between two different lottery options– one with a 70% of chance of winning a $2 prize and one with a $25 prize but only a 2% of chance of winning. They manipulated participant’s moods and tracked the lottery choices they preferred. Researchers found that anger and embarrassment led to an increase in risky decisions.

But historically, no major progress has come from a place of apathy and I certainly have made some of the best decisions in my business when I passionate.

So instead of trying to make decisions devoid of emotion, I’m trying to figure out how to best leverage those emotions and the data and facts my business collects to make the most effective decisions.

So here are three tools that I rely on to maintain logical integrity in decisions while keeping my heart in them. They even are effective in checking your emotions that come from outside of work.

  1. Rely on your team: The biggest and simplest way that I check my decision making is by never making solo decisions. That’s the beauty of having a team around you. I can’t imagine how difficult decision making must be for solo founders. When my team is making any decision, much less a major one, we rarely find an immediate consensus. The process of getting to that point — defending your position and understanding other’s perspectives — always keeps us from making a decision that’s not based on evidence.
  2. Take your time: If you have the luxury of time, don’t make a decision that you immediately set into action. Give yourself a couple of days, give yourself a week if you have it, and think about what you’ve decided and why. And if a few days later you think you made the wrong decision, then don’t hesitate to tell your team. Which also brings up the point: do not wait until the last minute to make a major decision.
  3. Get an outside opinion: as essential as it is that your team get on the same page, it’s equally important to turn to a mentor who is removed from the day-to-day of your company. They’ll be able to give you a fresh perspective that’s not clouded by an emotional connection to your work. My team called a former boss of ours (thanks for always answering the phone, John Clark) and started out by saying, “We just need to make sure we’re not making a really dumb decision.” Talking it through with him and explaining out loud how we’d gotten to the decision made us confident in the direction we were taking our company.

Here’s the thing, even if you want to, it’s really difficult to remove your emotions from your decisions. A group of psychologists from top U.S. universities concluded in a 2014 study that, “emotions constitute powerful and predictable drivers of decision making.”

So everyone, and yes Twitter trolls this applies to you too, is making decisions imbued with their personal emotions. And that’s okay. Just make sure that you’re being careful to check that those emotional decisions are also logical.


For more on emotions and how they affect critical thinking, visit this past blog post

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