Traditional companies, born in the days when companies were managed like machines (a model that pervades today), ignore the value of emotions, viewing them as irrelevant to rational decision-making. This view assumes that people who operate like robots and don’t allow feelings to cloud their intelligence make better decision-makers.
The problem with this approach is twofold: First, humans aren’t robots, and emotional responses inform just about everything people do. Second, what you resist persists. If you push emotions down, they reemerge, often as undesirable behaviors: bullying, anger, intimidation, and my-way-or-the-highway attitudes that cloud everything. A better approach is to acknowledge that emotions are a type of information that should be considered in decision-making.
Understanding emotional responses
Your body detects, processes, and stores emotional data from your environment exceptionally fast. How fast? Different studies produce varying results, but all conclude that your subconscious processes information much faster than your conscious. (One study timed problem-solving processing speed of the conscious mind at 100 to 150 mph while the subconscious clocked in at 100,000 mph!)
This suggests that there’s a lot of information available to you when you make a decision that you might not be aware of. In addition, memories — gained from both pleasant and painful experiences — stay with you, stored in your subconscious. Together, your rational mind and your subconscious impact your responses to the situation and your decision-making.
What’s interesting is that, although most people assume that the rational mind plays the bigger role in decision-making, the subconscious is really the captain of the decision-making ship. Your subconscious stores all your emotional data, as well as what it picks up from your environment. And emotional wounds from the past can hijack your decision-making.
Unresolved emotional experiences hold a negative charge that interferes with how you interpret information. Think of a time when a subtle remark triggered an angry response, for example. Chances are you weren’t reacting to the subtle remark but to the old wound that the remark triggered. In these situations, you want to convert the negative into neutral.
Turning a painful experience into something useful
When you understand an emotion and the reasons behind it, it no longer has the baggage that can trip you up. Instead, it becomes knowledge that you can use to deepen your understanding of the situation or issue. Here’s one method to transform a painful experience into something useful:
Reflect on the situation where you originally experienced the painful emotion that was triggered.
Try to picture the situation in your mind’s eye. Your goal is to see the interaction close up in order to know what triggered your response and emotions. Feel and accept the emotions you experience.
Imagine the entire scenario again, this time from an emotionally detached point of view.
Be a fly on the wall. Observe your reaction to what is happening. Look for ways you could respond differently and more effectively. If someone else features in this memory, try to detect what motivated the entire incident from that person’s point of view. Doing so helps you see what lies at the heart of the matter and enables you to hold empathy.
Rewind and replay the scenario, but this time, insert a different response.
Watch how the scene plays out. Yes, you’re using your imagination, but your subconscious experiences the event as though it’s real. After reframing the incident to a much happier outcome, you should feel a sense of peace and resolution. If not, work with a few more different responses until you do.
Discovering the triggers to your emotional responses is useful for many reasons, but here are two: It strengthens your intuition (emotional baggage distorts the signal), and it helps you explore and examine your beliefs.