Learning Lab

Coaching on decisions; is emotion important?

You will have heard the sayings before:

“High emotion, low intelligence”

“Control your emotion, or it will control you”

“The sign of an intelligent people is their ability to control their emotions by the application of reason”

If we are interested in best helping people to make decisions that support them in achieving their outcomes then we will be interested in the following question.

Could it be the case that emotions and feelings are vital to decision making?

You may be familiar with the story of Phineas Gage whose personality altered substantially when an iron bar exploded through his head, leaving him fully functioning, but it was said that the decisions he made weren’t based on his old values. His mind appeared to work well, but his behaviors were not in his best interests.

Antonio Damasio was privileged to study a patient who could be termed ‘a modern day Gage’ – this gentleman, who Damasio called Elliot, got great test scores on all the major tests used to asses the brain and mind. When Elliot was tested on his ability to make decisions, this is where things got interesting. He could reason why one may be better than the other and then present the counter argument, but after all the elegant discussions he summarized ‘and after all this, I still wouldn’t know what to do!’

It is looking probable that a lack of ability to assign different values to different options makes it very hard to make decisions.  How this happens could lead us to understand more about the neurobiology of rationality. For Coaches this is very powerful to understand because once we can understand how a person rationalizes something and decides upon something we can better serve them to help them do this with things that best enable them to reach their outcome.

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