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  • Mike Bensi

Using Feelings to Make Decisions


"I've just got this feeling."


Over the last twenty years, this has been a fairly common response from my wife when we're on the brink of making big decisions. Where to live. Number of kids. Where to eat on our family dinner nights.

Has she been right? Most of the time, yes. We love where we live. Of course we love all of our children - most of the time. She has this great ability to (1) have a strong feeling towards a decision and (2) maintain and stay true to that decision. No. Matter. What.

I know plenty of leaders with similar feelings or gut instincts. And similarly, those leaders are good leaders because of their ability to chose a course of action and then stay the course. No. Matter. What.

But we're in the middle of a pandemic and ongoing social unrest.


Every single person I know has had to make decisions with little to no information this year. And with the gifts that 2020 continues to share, you've probably had plenty of reasons to listen to your gut to guide you through.

But instincts can only take us so far, as they work best we we are in our comfort zone and/or in times of certainty. I'm not sure about you, but 2020 has provided neither of those opportunities for me.


During times of uncertainty, you have to be willing to adapt by not only listening to your gut but by testing what you're feeling by:

Share the decision making. Research says that people are more likely to rely on their gut and stick with the decisions they make when they feel personally responsible for the decision making. To fight this, share the load of the decision by involving others in the process. If you're interviewing for a key hire, allow the key people you work with to be part of the process.

Allow others freedom. Involving others in the process is great and all. But if you don't allow them to to challenge and question during the process, you're wasting their time and yours. Emphasize the themes of an unbreakable team to create the space for open discussion.

Search for sunk costs. Chances are, if you're stuck in a sunk cost fallacy, you are missing out on other opportunities that could bring better value. Be actively on the look out for emotional attachments to decisions. Doing so avoids the possibility of continuing to go nowhere with our past decisions.

Use data and metrics proactively. I used to think that the simple act of sharing data would help others make better decisions. But this year I've seen more people using data to only confirm their beliefs or instincts rather than to challenge those beliefs. If this sounds similar, use data to pre-commit to a decision or solution. If you're deciding to return to work, decide before hand the number of COVID cases and/or the percentage of employees comfortable returning to work in order to make that decision.

Think like a pessimist. Sometimes leaders believe their idea is best - and won't come with any problems. While that optimism has been needed this year to keep morale high, thinking about all the things that could go wrong - versus only thinking about what could go perfectly - can help ensure you're not letting your optimism lead you through a big decision.

Use your gut to pursue opportunities. Use your head to make sure it is correct - especially during uncertain times. Research suggests that those who do so, make better decisions in the long run. And last time I checked, 2020 is still a long ways away from being over.

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