Why Getting in
Touch with Your Feelings Makes Good Business Sense
Research by Myeong-Gu Seo
The professional workplace doesn’t exactly encourage
navel-gazing. And workers are often encouraged to ignore
their feelings in favor of more logical and analytical
behavior. But strong feelings—and an awareness of those
feelings—actually cause people to make better decisions,
according to recent research by Myeong-Gu Seo, assistant
professor of management and organization. Seo, with
co-author Lisa Feldman Barrett, Boston College, examined the
relationship between emotion and decision-making in their
paper “Being Emotional During Decision Making—Good or Bad?
An Empirical Investigation.”
Seo invited members of six investment clubs to
participate in the study. Each of the 118 participants were
given $10,000 in play money and allowed to invest the whole
or a part of their cash on any of 12 anonymous stocks
selected from the national stock market. About 80 percent of
the participants in the study were male, which is consistent
with the population of most investment clubs.
Seo ran a stock investment simulation for 20 business
days, and had participants describe their emotional states
multiple times (once per day and just before they made their
investment decisions) during the course of the simulation.
He tracked both the types of emotions participants
experienced and the intensity of those emotions.
He then looked at the degree to which participants’
risk-taking behavior and their stock investment performance
varied depending on their emotional state. Seo found that
the more intense a participant’s feelings were, the better
their decision-making performance, whether those feelings
were negative or positive.
Seo also found that people who were able to more
accurately describe their feelings performed better in stock
investing regardless of the emotions they were experiencing
at the time. This is because participants who understood
their feelings seemed better able to keep those feelings
from having a direct impact on their decision-making
strategy (the level of risk-taking), and as a result got
higher investment returns.
“As soon as you are aware of your emotions, suddenly that
corrects many emotional biases,” says Seo. “The starting
point of regulating the influence of your emotions is to be
aware of what is going on. It is important to have a clear
understanding of what is going on with you emotionally.”
These results will come as a surprise to those who
believe that emotions have no place in the workplace, as it
contradicts both past studies and the common wisdom. But Seo
thinks that understanding the importance of emotions in
decision-making is going to be increasingly important in an
economy that is not just high-tech but also increasingly
high-touch. Interpersonal relationships play a large role in
many organizations, where most employees spend at least part
of their time on team-based work.
In focusing on the negative effects of emotion in the
workplace, managers are missing out on all the positive
effects of people’s feelings, including better decision
efficiency, engagement and creativity. Rather than
suppressing or constraining emotions, managers need to find
ways to use the positive effects of emotion in their
employees while mitigating the negative effects, says Seo.
But it is just as important that leaders stay in touch with
their own emotions in order to avoid making decisions driven
by emotional biases that they may not realize are affecting
their judgment. Training managers to better use their
emotional intelligence could also help them better manage
the interpersonal relationships and group dynamics that play
such an important part in today’s knowledge-based economy.
Seo’s research has been published in the Academy of
Management and the December 2007 Harvard Business
Review. For more information, contact