Biz Features

EQ and Decision-making: How Emotions Affect your Business Choices

by . February 19th, 2014


Emotions influence decisions. This isn’t exactly new nor groundbreaking. We use this principle every time we manage employees or put out advertising and marketing campaigns. We choose fonts and colors  and structure websites and design storefronts based on how we think people will react to them. We watch the words we use so we can convince people to take the actions we want them to take.

Yet, it’s not often that we ourselves think about how we think or how our emotions affect our decisions. Steve Jobs famously said “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Emotional states are always in a state of flux, depending on outside stimuli, current physiological condition, and brain chemistry. Among many other things. You’re literally a different person than who you were an hour ago. The difference may not be much, but it’s enough to pull your decisions one way or another.

Hungry, Hungry Judges

In a controversial study, judges were far more likely to decide harsher sentences as they got more tired or hungry. Data was taken from a study of 1,000 rulings by eight Israeli judges, 6 male and 2 female.


The study’s conclusion stated “[The researchers] find that the percentage of favorable rulings drops gradually from [about] 65% to nearly zero within each decision session and returns abruptly to [about] 65% after a break. Our findings suggest that judicial rulings can be swayed by extraneous variables that should have no bearing on legal decisions.

Judges, unlike managers and entrepreneurs, are generally expected to be as unbiased and as logical as they can be. It’s kind of their thing. This study strongly suggests you are two and six times as likely to be released if you’re among the first few prisoners considered compared to the last ones heard.

And this will have nothing to do with the judges’ biases either, as the results are across the board. As a matter of fact, hunger and fatigue were even bigger factors for conviction than prior criminal records.


More important than your criminal record!

If judges, people whose job it is to be impartial, are prone to having their decisions affected by fatigue and hunger – what implications are there for the rest of us?

Entrepreneurs and managers are normally much freer to include their biases when making decisions, but nonetheless are expected to make decisions based on facts and evidence. But while most of us still put a lot of stock on “rational” thinking, it’s a lot more difficult to pull off than just simply applying what you’ve learned from Philosophy 101.

The classic “mind and body” duality made popular by Rene Descartes way back in the 17th century is clearly outdated. The mind is clearly part of the body, regardless of how much control you think you have of it.

This is Where EQ Comes In

External problem-solving and analytical skills are only part of what helps us make good decisions.  Our EQ is what allows us to manage the cues that make us feel or act certain ways.

This isn’t to say that the judges in the study had low EQs. They probably were better at managing their emotions than most of us. It’s just that a lot of the time, it can be difficult, if not downright impossible to keep yourself aware of how your brain is making it harder for you to make the best choices possible.

When was the last time you made an impulse decision to say— overeat?  You probably didn’t even think much about it at the time.  The good news is that Emotional Intelligence (EI) is much easier to improve than your IQ.

This video’s a bit cheesy, but it nails exactly how EQ and EI figures into management and decision-making:

Want to better control your emotions? Need to make better decisions? Here are a few things you need to do to get started:

1) Realize that EQ is important for decisions

The sooner you accept that you’re not the dispassionate, logical thinking machine you’ve made yourself out to be, the better. You’re never going to be consistently logical for any long stretch, and you won’t always know when exactly your mental and emotional states start to change. And that’s ok.

2) Recognize triggers that could negatively affect your emotional state

Just remember some triggers are harder to recognize than others.

3) Avoid or work around those triggers

There’s hundreds of different coping strategies to deal with triggers that you need to deal with. If you can’t deal with it, delegate or let go!

4) Be prepared to act positively

By positive, we mean be prepared to act, period. While some navel-gazing is fine, and can be the best choice in a few circumstances, decision paralysis is something you’d want to avoid as a manager. Make sure that soul-searching is the last possible reason you have for ignoring a decision.  

Perhaps the biggest thing we can learn from this is: Never make important decisions on an empty stomach.


Danziger, S., Levav, J. & Avnaim-Pesso, L. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA advance online publication doi:10.1073/pnas.1018033108 (2011).

Image Credits

Shell game: emilykbecker via photopin cc

Quiz: albertogp123 via photopin cc

Gavel: bloomsberries via photopin cc

Comedy and Tragedy: Jennerally via photopin cc

Burger: Vanessa Pike-Russell via photopin cc


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.