• We might like to think we're rational and logical, but so often our internal states and emotions are in the driver's seat

  • Coach Paul McGee explores the impact of emotion on decision-making and communication

Ever witnessed someone's behaviour and thought “I can’t believe they’d do something so stupid”? Ever thought to yourself “I can’t believe I just did that. What was I thinking?” Ever wondered why some people fail to see the obvious answer to a problem when it’s staring them right in the face?

I certainly have.

Part of my role in my business is to coach people. Often the coaching is related to how they can improve as a communicator and presenter, but sometimes the coaching is more focused on particular issues people are facing in their professional or personal lives. 

Here’s what’s interesting: When I’m emotionally detached from the situation I find my ability to see the cause of the problem and the possible solutions comes quickly and easily.

But there’s a problem.

When I’m emotionally involved in the situation, when it’s to do with my business, one of my team, one of my clients, or it’s related to something in my personal life then my clarity becomes cloudy.

It’s as if my glasses are permanently steamed up. I’ve been emotionally hijacked. My brain can become scrambled and what might be an obvious way forward to someone else can remain distant and elusive to me. A lack of sleep, often triggered because we’re worrying about a situation, will further exacerbate our lack of rational thinking. 

Tiredness can trigger terrible decisions.

That’s why seemingly rational, intelligent, successful people do stupid things and often miss the obvious.

So when we’re closely involved in a situation or physically and emotionally tired, our rational perspective often takes a back seat. And in its place steps up our emotional brain, which takes a firm grip of the controls of our decision making. Sometimes with dire consequences. 

Your emotions can cloud the view to your solutions.

That’s why at times it’s absolutely critical that you don’t strike whilst the iron is hot. Because when you do there’s a strong chance that someone is going to get burnt. (You may just want to re-read that last point again. It could save you a lot of heartache in the future.)

Remember, when you’re feeling either “mad,” “bad” or “sad” you’re not thinking straight. And often when we’re in an emotional state we look for a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Our brains drive us to act, not think.

So what does this look like in reality?

Parents can lash out with totally inappropriate and disproportionate punishments for their children. “You’re grounded for three months.”

Managers speak first and think later, “I never want him near this building again.”

Customers can wildly overreact to a minor issue and go to extraordinary and time-consuming lengths to argue their case.

If any of this seems familiar to you then welcome to dealing with the human race. It’s not easy, is it? 

So don’t be deceived by our technological advances and our sophisticated ways of living. Deep down we still show remarkable similarities to our evolutionary ancestors.

Our ways of communication may have evolved, but sometimes our ways of thinking haven’t. So please, never ever assume that logic is running the show. It isn’t.

And it’s not just something other people are prone to. You’re prone to this form of illogical and irrational thinking and behaviour as well. Drugs and alcohol will exacerbate our “stupidness,” but so too will increased stress.

I’m really not exaggerating when I say “stress makes you stupid.” 

And conversely so too can feelings of high elation that can lead us into making rash promises and rash decisions whilst we’re still caught up on an emotional high. Despite our later regrets our pride can kick in and make us feel compelled to stick with these promises and decisions. We can convince ourselves that to change our mind might appear foolish. Yet the reality is not changing your mind and admitting you may have acted rashly is stupid. But that’s the danger when we allow our emotions to completely hijack our decisions. 

Never underestimate intelligent people’s ability to make really stupid decisions.

Here's a challenge for yourself: If you’ve already overreacted to a situation or a person what will you do to ensure a better outcome next time?

Paul McGee is the author of How to Succeed with People: Remarkably Easy Ways to Engage, Influence and Motivate Almost Anyone 

Further reading

Insecure attachment in couples: How to break negative communication cycles

Conflict in relationships: How to cope when someone is mad at you

7 tips for good communication with challenging people

Tips for online communication: Can we agree to disagree?