How We Make Decisions

We are all rational beings, making decisions after carefully weighing the analytical arguments.  We always keep an open mind.  We study the facts, and then decide.  Logical, analytical, practical.  When confronting a big decision, our brain overpowers everything to help us arrive at the right conclusion.  We don’t let emotions get in the way.  Ever.


Well, it’s probably not like that for most of us.

Head Justifies the Heart

We actually tend to make emotional decisions first, and then look for facts to justify that decision.  That’s what the scientists say in recent studies.

Our “gut” helps us decide.  That’s emotion.  In other words, we decide in our heart and justify it in our head.

That’s not good or bad; it’s just the way it is.

As a result, marketers tend to pull at our “heart strings” with emotional appeals.  It’s why branding is so important—colors carefully chosen, music picked with care.  All of it is designed in an effort to sway our emotional decision-making.  We create a certain feeling through the use of sensual imagery.

Ironically, these marketing decisions are not based on what marketers “feel” would work.  Many of them are based on neuroscience.  Expose a group of consumers to a product while giving them a brain scan.  That shows what areas of the brain are lighting up.  There are other tools that are used—blood pressure, skin tests, eye tracking, and all sorts of biofeedback mechanisms.  The results help marketers see what works literally by seeing inside our brains.

Cynics would say that it’s all designed to manipulate.  Marketers would say it’s not manipulative.  It’s placing your product or service in the best light possible.


How does knowing this impact leadership?

As a leader, it has broad ramifications.  Take, for instance, how you present your ideas.  Whether to customers, other team members, employees, or potential partners, you cannot structure your arguments around facts alone.  It’s why a speaker is more effective showing images during a speech, not displaying the words and reading them.  Employees looking for inspiration rarely get it when the CEO only forwards the quarterly numbers.  They want to be inspired with purpose and to know the “why” behind it all.

Faking it doesn’t work either.  Emotional intelligence helps us know whether it’s genuine, and what to do about it.  That’s why we love to be led by passionate leaders who believe in their company and products.  We don’t want to be sold.



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