Of Hearts and Minds

HR professionals and business leaders face difficult decisions when logic, data, and facts suggest one course of action while emotions, feelings, and “gut” suggest another. Torn between the options, we must weigh the risks, evaluate the impact, and use the approach that provides the best decision for the organization in that situation.

Some people favor logic and rational arguments. They “keep a cool head,” and don’t let emotions influence their decisions. These individuals want hard evidence and make decisions based on data, research, documentation, and factual analysis. This logical approach is most effective for solving complex problems, when legal compliance and consistency are critical, or when presenting to the executive team.

Others are more focused on compassion, empathy, and human character. They are inclined to ignore facts and logic and “go with their gut.” Emphasizing the emotional impact on people is effective when resolving workplace conflict, driving employee engagement, or managing organizational change.

Given the following real-life scenarios, would you respond with intellect or instinct?

  • An investigation of your top-producing salesperson reveals a consistent pattern of highly inappropriate behavior.
  • One candidate’s knowledge, skills, and abilities are the best match for the requirements of the position while your impression of another candidate is that they would be a better cultural fit.
  • An employee with a chronic medical condition fails to return to work, even two months after their FMLA leave has expired.
  • A manager has decided that they have “had it” with a long-term employee and want to terminate them immediately, although there has been no documentation of performance issues.

Head and heart both play a role in most workplace situations, but it is helpful to identify which is most compelling. Giving equal weight to emotion and logic is not a recommended approach, as it can make your arguments weak and less convincing. A better strategy is to identify the strongest foundation for your position based on business priorities, the specific circumstances, target audience, risk, and time pressures.

There are moments when our hearts and brains work together as a symbiotic whole. When they speak the same language, decisions can be made swiftly and confidently. More frequently, there is no escaping the disconnect between what our heads tell us and what we feel in our hearts. This predicament forces us to evaluate and reconcile contrasting advice in order to make an informed decision.

People are complicated, and so are the workplace problems we must solve. Facts are often in direct conflict with our feelings. The key is to determine, in advance, which lever is most important in a particular circumstance. Be thoughtful, consistent, and intentional.

In the film, Of Hearts and Minds, filmmaker David Malone says, “The heart is a pump that does respond when the brain asks it to, but it is not enslaved to the brain. It is our heart working in tandem with our brain that allows us to feel for others. It is ultimately what makes us human. Compassion is the heart’s gift to the rational mind.”