“Spoiler Alert: All Decisions are Emotional”

Years ago, while working for a large corporation I was asked (along with a few other colleagues) to review candidates for a plum new management position at our company. After interviewing a large group of individuals our team narrowed the search to two strong candidates.

On the whole the two were really quite similar. Both were well qualified. Each had extensive experience, each had an impressive track record of success and each was well respected by his peers.

One of the two candidates it was observed was also particularly fastidious about his appearance. He was always well groomed and very professional in demeanor. The other, while just as professional, was clearly less attuned to his look. As a result, this individual (who’s shirt always seemed to be partially un-tucked from his pants and who’s hair often appeared a little askew) came across as being somewhat disheveled.

Interestingly, when our team met to review these two candidates, several members of the group remarked that they felt the fastidiously dressed candidate seemed more organized and managerial than the other. Was that really the case I wondered? Or, were they making an assumption based on physical appearance?

In the end, we’ll never know for sure, but one thing we do know from social science is this.

The more similar two options appear, the more important their differences. Often, as was the case here, those differences are quite small. To the individual who was less attuned to his physical appearance this sort of focus on something superficial would surely have seemed unimportant. However, the reality is that while we’d like to think that people (and in this case, hiring managers) are making good decisions based on rational data, in fact, each and every day we make decisions about people, places, products and so on within seconds of our initial encounter. And often, these impressions are based on seemingly small observations or a gut feeling. Any follow up data we collect merely serves to justify the decision we’ve already made.

So, knowing this, what should we do? – Sweat the small stuff!

Because, like it or not, all decisions are emotional.

..This much I know.


Jeanine Hughes

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