Emotion or Logic??

Recently I was intrigued by an article in a Fast Company magazine. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/136/made-to-stick-hold-the-interview.html He was talking about how we spend so much time interviewing for the right candidate.  After we hire them, we determined that they are the wrong candidate, but we hired them based on the fact that they interviewed well. They cited a study in Texas at a medical school where they admitted students based in part on interview scores.  The state said that they had to admit 50 more students.  So they admitted 50 more students that were below the cut off on the interview scores.  These students did just as well academically, and in their first year of residency.

It appears that our ability to discern compatibility from an interview is less than perfect.

Then, in a different Fast Company Article, in the Made to Stick Column by Dan and Chip Heath http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/137/made-to-stick-in-defense-of-feelings.html they report on gut feelings.  In particular, how your feelings can be more ethical than analytics. They cite a study from the University of Toronto, where Chen-Bo Zhong tested subjects with anonymous partners.  They wanted to test whether or not people would lie or not to anonymous people.  If they lied, they would gain at the expense of their partners. 

Some were encouraged to think rationally about the situation and ignore their emotions.  Almost 70% of these people determined that it was okay to lie to their partner. Others were primed to base their decision on gut feelings.  In this case, only 27% lied.  In this article, Chip and Dan point out, that  when interviewed, most business people search for someone that makes decisions rationally, versus decisions based on emotion.  Yet the individuals that made emotional decisions were the more reliable and honest. We can Trust Them! Look at what happened to our “rational”financial markets.

What strikes me about these two articles is the dichotomy between rational and emotional decision-making.  In one case, the interview, we find that gut feelings are not always reliable.  When we choose our candidates based on their interview skills.  We often end up with candidates that are not best suited for the job.  On the other hand, when dealing with profit and gain people that pay attention to their gut feelings or to their emotions and their intuition tend to deal more honestly  with each other. 

So leaders, what are we to do? Do we follow our gut or do we rely on logic?


  1. Very interesting thoughts, John. And as you might guess, I have several comments.

    1. Hiring is never a sure thing. And some people just interview really well. That’s why I prefer Behavioral Interviewing. It’s helps me see a persons flaws (if they will admit to any) and also see what they have learned. But this is something that people need to be trained on to do well. Otherwise it’s just another management fad.

    2. Some of the most important business decisions that we make are about who we hire. Followed shortly by the decisions about who we fire. Do we admit mistakes when we make them? Or do we try and salvage the person just to prove that we were not wrong?

    Personally, it took me a long time before I was willing to admit that I had made a mistake in hiring someone.

    3. I’m not surprised that people lie more when told to think logically. You can take an issue and present facts on both sides of it. If you are “thinking logically” it is not hard to focus only on the facts that support your position.

    Which leads me to point 4.

    4. Studies show that most people actually decide things emotionally and then use facts to support that contention. They choose the facts that support their beliefs and ignore those that don’t.

    5. If you take items 2 and 3 together you have a strong case for examining a persons values when you get close to them. Whether it be adding a new friend, or adding a new employee. If their key values are different than your own, their decisions and actions are likely to be contrary to what you would do. This of course leads to conflict that can be difficult to resolve. But when your values are in sync there will be more harmony.

    Take this one step further.

    6. Do I really want to surround myself with people who think like me?

    No, I want people who think differently so that I can fully benefit from a fresh perspective. But I do want them to think differently than me, but with the same core value system.

    Keep us the good work, John.

  2. Dave,

    I agree with your comments also. My experience is that people make decisions and then find “facts” to back them up.  our intuition can be very powerful if we can tap into it. A good example from last night at the gym.

    I had finished my workout and was in the sauna. I saw a member heading for the locker room with bolt cutters. and I got the intuition to go make sure he didn’t cut my lock. Guess what, He had cut my lock. Mine was on the top row and green his was on the bottom row and green. What are the odds?

    As managers and leaders I think it it is critical to get in touch with our values; have them cleary defined, stated and reinforced. And then tap into the intuitive and emotional parts of ourselves to drive our business in line with those values. We do this by asking our selves is this in keeping with my values of… and if so move forward. If not stop.

    Take good care.


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