Article Date: 8/1/2010

The Role of Emotion in Leading Your Practice
o. d. to o.d.

The Role of Emotion in Leading Your Practice

How do we properly blend rational and emotional thought in the decision-making process?

Chief Optometric Editor

Aristotle was a student of Plato, and his main problem with his teacher was Plato's respect — or lack of respect — for the role of emotions in the thought process. Unlike Plato, Aristotle realized that rationality wasn't always in conflict with emotion, but rather argued that one of the critical functions of the rational soul was to make sure that emotions were intelligently applied to the real world.

Discounting emotions

In business, we often hear, "think with your head, not your heart." As a result, we continually discount emotions when we weigh data, evaluate threats or opportunities, correlate statistics and use results from customer surveys or focus groups.

While it's not that common in private practices, many large companies rely on surveys and focus groups to make decisions regarding product development, marketing and advertising. Without carefully considering the context of these opinions, they may not be making the best decisions.

I suggest you put together a focus group that consists of six to eight of your patients. Create a list of topics for discussion and a list of questions for them to answer. Ask for your patient's recommendations and, of course, have an outsider (a professional moderator or facilitator) conduct the focus group for you.

While their short-comings have been well-documented, focus groups continue to be one of the guiding lights in marketing and developing business strategy. Jonah Lehrer writes about focus groups in his book, How We Decide (Mariner Books, 2010). For example, he says that the response of focus groups determines whether TV shows make it to the networks. As with anything, however, there are no absolutes. Three great examples of focus groups getting it wrong are the groups' rejections of the TV shows Seinfeld, Mary Tyler Moore and Hill Street Blues.

Understanding the focus group

Focus groups are, at best, a crude instrument to measure responses because people express their feelings, but they don't explain them. Data is recorded based on impulsive feelings with all the usual flaws of the emotional brain. Executives must sort through the data and make qualitative decisions using contextual information. You can't rely strictly on emotional data and obey it blindly.

Sorting through data and making sense of it is what the brain's prefrontal cortex does well. A sampling of your patients in a focus group is like your emotional brain, constantly sending out visceral signals about likes and dislikes. The prefrontal cortex — also called the executive brain — is like a seasoned practitioner and business owner, patiently monitoring emotional reactions and deciding which to take seriously. Rationality can save us from impulsive decisions based on negative feelings that aren't justified. But relying exclusively on rational thought can easily backfire as well.

Making the best decision

In many instances, when the rational brain takes over, people tend to make decision-making mistakes. They ignore the wisdom of their emotions and start basing their arguments on things they can explain rationally, like survey data (without considering that customers respond to surveys emotionally). Yet your best decisions are made by letting your emotions guide you through a systematic evaluation of data. In other words, use your heart and your head to best run your business. OM

Optometric Management, Issue: August 2010