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Logic and Emotion

April 8, 2009

Star TrekOver the last year I’ve learned a lot about people and business. I’ve observed that there are two basic types of interaction – those that involve logic and those that involve emotion. These interactions are applied to people and business on a daily basis, but they are generally applied in the wrong ways.

Logic can be described as a system of reasoning. When asking questions such as “which server platform should we choose, Windows or Linux”, you can weigh data points against other data points and use reason to come to a conclusion about which platform is best for you.

Emotion can be described as a mental or physiological state associated with a variety of feelings or thoughts. In essence, our moods. Emotion does not follow any system of reasoning – it just exists. There is no reason for me to be annoyed by people walking by my desk. Sometimes it just rubs me the wrong way. (I’m not really annoyed; it’s just an example.)

Now that we have defined logic and emotion, let’s look at how they are applied incorrectly.

HR managers sometimes need to tell people that they are not performing adequately. Imagine how you would feel if you were hauled into your boss’ office and told that you needed to pull up your socks. Your boss presents the logical side of your performance problems (being late, introducing bugs, etc). Your boss then logically presents a plan, metrics, and alternatives for this behaviour. Everything is cold and calculated because the boss thinks that you are logical and you can not possibly disagree with the facts.

But people are emotional. Maybe you’re late because your spouse is sick and you had to take the kids to school. Maybe you ran out of jam for your toast. Maybe your kid keeps turning off your alarm clock. On top of your home/commute/extracurricular frustrations you’re nervous about being called into the boss’s office, and now you’re angry and defensive that you don’t get to explain.

But imagine the difference if you have a great boss and emotion is applied to this situation. The boss tries to understand why you are late. The boss empathizes with your situation and realizes that the kids will grow out of the turn-off-the-alarm-clock phase. You both have a shared understanding and there is actually no problem. You say “I’ll check the clock before I go to bed”. The boss doesn’t need to prescribe a solution.

Now let’s look at the business portion of … business. People can have strong emotional attachments to things like product lines or brands. An example –  there is a need for servers, but do you choose Windows or Linux? Ideally you would identify required features, the pros and cons of each platform, and come up with a formula of some sort to weigh the options. In reality you get people who are emotionally attached to one or the other and they debate based on their attachment. “Windows sucks because the kernel isn’t separated from the UI.” “Linux sucks because it has no drivers.” Or whatever. This is not the situation to make a decision based on emotion. You need to analyze the facts because you can’t properly make decisions any other way. What you end up with is one party capitulating –  “Whatever, use Linux” just so you can move on and get something done.

Have you noticed this? Do you agree or not?

By: Ryan Shuya

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  1. mdchris
    April 8, 2009 at 6:04 PM

    Emotions definitely play a huge role in our industry. Specifically, the control of emotions. Lack of control translates in to bad decisions. Capitulation equals bad decisions. Failure to apply logic to a situation will usually result in….guess what…bad decisions.

    I would say that in your great boss scenario, they didn’t add emotion to the equation, they added empathy and reasonable logic. Logically you should assume there might be a reasonable reason the employee is late, and that you should try to understand the reason before offering solutions.

    I actually can’t think of any situations off the top of my head where making decisions based on emotions instead of logic would yield a better result.

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