Emotions and rationality

If you are using emotional tools to address a rational problem, chances are you are going to struggle in the medium/long-term.

Say you are at a meeting discussing how many new hires you need for the next project. Since you know that hiring people, onboarding and training them is a lot of work, and you’d rather focus on something different, you leverage the fear of taking risks of your boss, throw some numbers in the air to make your point, and end up scoring a point. In the medium term, your team will be understaffed.

This is the same mechanism we are seeing at work with Brexit and most of the populism around the World. A real, concrete, rational problem (i.e. an increasing part of the population is being left behind) is addressed leveraging emotions (fear, anger, hatred). Good results in the short-term (Brexit was voted, many populists are being elected), but when it comes to putting together concrete acts to move past the feelings, not much can be done.

Something similar happens with the opposite. If one of your team members is struggling to share ideas and participate in team meetings (an emotional problem), and you decide that from now on meetings will feature a “let’s go around the table” moment (a rational tool), you will force the team member to speak, yet not necessarily get the best ideas out of them.

Facebook is in the process of understanding this very thing. In trying to cope with the spread of hate speech and inappropriate content on their platform (emotional problem), they have decided to ramp up the number of moderators and feed them 14,000 pages of instructions on what is acceptable and what is not (rational tool). Clearly, it is not working.

Beyond malice and opportunism, make sure you know on which level your problem is, and come up with a solution that speaks the same language. Your chances to make an impact and be trusted (forever?) will increase dramatically.

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