By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

I’m old enough to remember being taught that the best decisions were always devoid of emotion.

And I’m young enough to remember thinking that didn’t make any sense at all. (Although I didn’t get all emotional about it.)

The problems with that advice are:

  • It’s impossible to follow and foolish to aspire to. No one can completely separate their head from their heart – their thoughts from their feelings. We have thoughts and feelings – all the time. Granted, some people are much more emotive than others. But displaying your emotions – or not – is not the same as being subject to them – or not.
  • Trying to avoid all emotions can actually degrade the quality of your decisions. It’s true.

2-edged sword

Emotions are actually a 2-edged sword: they can improve the quality of your decisions or they can undermine them.

Consider this: Someone who is working for you consistently underperforms and is constantly offending co-workers and customers alike. You’ve talked to him. You’ve given him behavioral goals to achieve. He not only hasn’t improved, he doesn’t show any interest in improving. You see no other choice but to let him go.

Your head tells you to call him in, give him the news, tell him to gather his things and leave immediately.

An ounce of compassion

But your heart says that he has a wife and child to look after – mouths to feed, rent to pay, a car payment. You decide to give him two weeks severance pay along with his last check. And because things are bound to be tight for him, you have the check cut immediately rather than waiting for the ordinary pay cycle to occur.

In this case your compassion leads to a better decision – certainly better for your staffer, but quite possibly better for your company too. Think about it. If you just push him out the door with no consideration, word will get around.

How is that going to affect staff morale? Who’s going to be worried – and distracted -- about what happens to them if they are let go? Who’s going to start looking elsewhere for a more compassionate employer – or decide to take another job offer that’s on the table?

A little compassion can improve your performance short-term and your company’s performance long-term.

An ounce of anger

Of course, another emotion might make this bad situation worse. You’re angry at this failed employee. You’re mad at him, at his indifference and at your own helplessness to turn around his performance.

You’re angry. And when you call him in, you let him know it. Why not? You’re cutting the cord. You won’t see him again. You yell and you scream.

When it’s clear to him he’s headed out the door, he decides he has nothing to lose and he expresses his anger too. So you get louder … and meaner. You tear him down every way you can think of. You tell him he’s not only shiftless but useless. You tell him to get out. You’ll have his personal stuff in a box to pick up in reception tomorrow. He’ll see a check in 10 days when all the payroll checks are issued.

“Now get the hell out,” you scream, and point to the door. He leaves in a rush, slamming the door behind him as he calls you a profane name.

Maybe you feel some satisfaction. Or maybe you just feel drained.

But what are the others on your staff who heard your exchange thinking? What are the others who didn’t hear – but will get a play by play account second-hand soon enough – going to think? Will they be more loyal? More committed? More eager to step up and contribute?

5 pluses and 5 minuses

Kate Nasser, a life coach, offers five examples of “positive emotions” that can help you make better decisions that best serve the short-term and long-term interests of everyone.

And she offers five examples of “negative emotions” that won’t help you make better decisions at all.

One that may surprise you is the positive emotion of “valuing altruism.” She writes: “Today’s employees and customers expect and value altruism. Caring for the environment and helping the under-privileged are just two examples of emotion that leaders now include in their decisions.”

Hard-headed lesson

If you are one of those hard-headed types who don’t see how acting out of true altruism will do anything but cost you money, consider this little piece of research.

Studies show that employees are more honest when they work for altruistic employers – those that donate to community causes and reach out to help people. Employees of these employers show higher levels of engagement, dedication and effort.

The research confirms that when you’re generous, your generosity comes back to you – often many times over.


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