I just read an article in Scientific American suggesting that older people can make better decisions if they rely more on their emotions. There’s a bit of an assumption in that statement – perhaps older people are already making better decisions? However, in general, it’s thought that as we get older, at some point our memories, attention and even problem solving skills, will start to decline.
The headline itself does not surprise me – using emotions in cognition is a core competency in most models of emotional intelligence. In my view, with the exclusion of some very specific situations such as trading in shares, most of us will make a better decision if we consider what our emotions are telling us and think about where that ‘gut’ feeling is coming from. This does not imply that we should make emotion-based decisions; it’s just a reminder that if we have an emotional reaction to a situation we should consider its source and then decide whether to act on that information.
Leaders in organisations make multiple decisions daily – most of them are made quickly – and although they usually based on the facts of a situation, most of the quick decisions are formed by relying on a mixture of instinct and experience. Sometimes leaders make decisions so quickly that they are considered to ‘shoot from the hip’ too often – I guess that’s an example of purely emotion-based decision making.
But back to older people – Joseph Mikels, a Professor of Psychology, noted that as we age, we are often much better at controlling when and how we express our emotions – and on the whole, this is a good thing. He also says “The wisdom of the heart also appears to help older adults resolve interpersonal issues. For instance, older adults shift their attention away from the negative aspects of conflicts and are generally less reactive to social conflicts.” His research seemed to focus on a specific decision making situation but in essence he proposed that older people “have a secret that people of all ages could benefit from: it’s okay to listen to the beat of your heart and follow where it leads.”
What are your thoughts on this? To what extent to you use emotion in your decision making at work? Do you think our temperaments or gender influence the extent to which we use emotions in cognition?