The “F” Word

If your childhood was anything like mine, it was clear which words were permissible to use at home, and which were not.  Sometimes adults were allowed to use forbidden words, but only when their fingers were smashed by wayward hammers.

We have the same policy in business today.  The “F” word is off limits.  And by the “F” word, I mean “feelings.”

We’re in business to make money, and feelings are rarely cited as support for our decisions.  Consider the last time you made a recommendation – if you are like most people, you used facts to support your position.  It’s hard to defend a decision with “it just felt right”. 

But let’s consider the story of Elliot.  Elliot was a successful businessman, and a patient of well-known neurologist Antonio Damasio.  In his book, Descartes’ Error, Damasio tells how Elliot came to his office after having a brain tumor removed.  The surgery was considered an incredible success – Elliot still possessed a high IQ and performed well on intelligence tests – but he was incapable of making even the simplest decision.  What cereal to buy.  What restaurant to visit.

Elliot’s story is tragic.  He lost his job, lost his life savings, lost his wife to divorce, and lost custody of his children.  He wasn’t the same man he used to be.  Things that used to excite him didn’t excite him anymore.  Things that scared him didn’t scare him anymore.  When Damasio investigated further, he found that Elliot’s surgery had created a lesion in his brain that severed the connection between the prefrontal cortex (his “thinking” brain) and the emotional center of his brain.  He was like Dr. Spock from the Starship Enterprise.

Elliot had no feelings.

Elliot couldn’t decide.

Damasio studied 12 more patients with similar lesions and found the exact same thing.  Without access to our feelings, we cannot decide.  It’s impossible.  But what’s the learning in this for our organizations?

  1. Rank Your Criteria – For big decisions, don’t treat all criteria equally.  Sometimes cost is more important.  Sometimes quality.  Sometimes speed to market.  List your top three and then gather input from key stakeholders (including your detractors) to hear their “feelings” as to which should be ranked highest in your given situation.
  2. Make Feelings Visible – In your decision making, acknowledge the role your feelings play.  Does the sales rep for one of your vendors drive you crazy?  Are you putting a lot of stock in the recommendations from your “favorite” employee?  If so, ask yourself, “How important is that in the context of this decision, and how reliable is my data?”
  3.  Measure Your Feelings – When making decisions, find concrete, consistent measures for vague criteria.  For example, if you are choosing a consulting firm and feel that one has poor customer support, what does that mean?  Response time?  Time required offering recommendations?  Frequent and consistent project updates?

We have a “feeling” these tips will benefit your decision making in the long run.  After all, these techniques and others like them have been helping our clients for the past thirty years.  If you are looking for other ways to develop decision making skills in your organization, just give us a call at (800) 386-5611.  We would love to hear from you.








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