Emotional Decision-Making

Controlling Emotions and Ethical Decision-Making

Negative Emotions and Ethical Decision Making

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This article looks at how negative emotions may influence ethical decision making. Emotions have an effect on rational thought processes, as studies have indicated that emotions impact general decision making in three ways, first where emotions provide information that helps the decision maker form more or less accurate judgements, individuals being in a positive state remember positive things and individuals in a negative state remember negative things. Second is that positive emotions cause a casual and heuristic decision making style while negative emotions cause a substantive and detailed decision making style. Last, emotions interfere with the brain’s ability to process information. When other people are involved in a dilemma it can also cause emotions to influence ethical decision making. Ethical decision making can be very emotional due to employees not being sure which decision is better or worse and that their decision could negatively impact another person. This study showed that individuals may make less ethical decisions to avoid painful emotions and those who are better at dealing with their emotions, having a higher emotional intelligence, make more ethical decisions (Krishnakumar & Rymph, 2012).

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In the article Investigating Unethical Decisions at Work: justification and emotion in dilemma resolution which looks at the impact of justifications and emotions on the ethical decisions of individuals. Ethical decisions involve many emotions while making a decision and while waiting for the outcomes of a decision. Regret is a negative emotion that people can experience when people feel as though they should have made a different choice. Relief is another strong emotion felt by people making decisions as they are no longer stressed about making a choice. Ethical situations can cause anxiety when making a decision, which can be produced by trying to decide between various outcomes and uncertainty, Krishnakumar & Rymph (2012) similarly pointing out that employees are not always sure about which decision is right and wrong. Satisfaction is another emotion that people expect to feel after making a decision. Justifications are also offered by decision makers when they feel they have to defend the reason for their choice. Excuses can be given by decision makers who know their choice was not appropriate but do not accept responsibility. When people are resolving ethical situations they often have to find a justification for their choice. Ethical approaches of deontological, which bases morality on what is right or wrong rather than consequences, and teleological, which is purpose serving, provide guidelines for how people should act while decision makers who use justifications that do not have connection to moral philosophy, such as “If I don’t do it someone else will,” are often viewed as making unethical choices. According to the study, anticipated emotions associated with all options and the judged relevance of the justification to each situation shape the choices that the individual makes when dealing with an ethical dilemma. The anticipated emotions of relief based on acting appropriately and regret based on acting inappropriately influence the decision maker towards making an ethical choice. Ethical decision makers were also found to look at the long term consequences of their decisions and their obligations to society as more important rather than using the law as a justification for their choices. This article strongly suggests that emotions play a role in ethical decision making. This study does suggest that a negative emotion of anxiety may present while making an ethical decision but does not state whether this impacts the choice that is made (Coughlan & Connolly, 2008).

In a study completed by Krishnakumar and Evglevskikh, positive and negative emotions were examined in ethical decision making. Ethical decision making is a complex process of perceiving, judging, and choosing a morally appropriate choice. Ethical issues in the workplace can sometimes allow for unethical behavior however evidence also shows that employees behave in positive ethical ways even when there are temptations to act unethically. The complexity of ethical decision making process has a reliance on morality, which is an emotional process for leaders making decisions. Ethical dilemmas can cause tension during the decision making process, not only from the dilemma but also from the context of the ethical scenario. Previous research has shown that emotions can direct decision makers towards a more or less ethical choice where integral emotions come from the ethical scenario. In this instance emotion offers information in a more intuitive way to the decision maker resulting in a more ethical decision. When the emotion is an incidental emotion it comes from the general context of the dilemma and can influence the judgement and decision making, pushing the decision maker towards a certain choice. Positive or negative emotions can influence judgements and how people process information, positive emotions bringing a casual processing style to decision making. Individuals with higher Emotional Intelligence, or those having a higher Emotional Regulation Ability, are more productive and clear when processing emotional information and are guided towards more effective and ethical choices, where those with low Emotional Regulation Ability make poorer ethical choices. Generally, emotions are not relied upon when making decisions but they do have the potential to influence ethical decision making. This study also indicated that integral emotions can act as information markers for decision makers. Joy may also cause decision makers to feel cognitively more free and so they do not properly reason and focus on the moral issue and could possibly make careless decisions, however, an organization that has a joyful work environment can result in employees making better ethical decisions and negative can discourage positive ethical decisions (Krishnakumar & Evglevskikh, 2016).

Hard Facts or Emotions?

A leader should not make decisions using only hard facts instead of emotions in ethical decision-making. It is still important to be human when faced with an ethical dilemma and when examining the hard facts, leaders also need to look at it is the right thing for that particular situation. Emotional Intelligence management allows for thoughtful, ethical decision to be made because it gives the leader the ability to perceive, thoughtfully use emotions, understand and manage the emotions to make the right choice, even when it is emotionally difficult (Krishnakumar & Rymph, 2012). If a leader feels that choosing a certain option will later lead to a specific positive or negative feeling it is rational to include those anticipated feelings when making the decision. Doing this is different from just responding to the feelings of that moment, but instead is looking ahead to allow for a justification to why they chose that action (Coughlan & Connolly, 2008).  

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to deal with emotions effectively and is defined by Salovey and Mayer as having four branches, those being the ability to perceive emotions, the ability to thoughtfully use emotions, the ability to understand emotions, and the ability to manage emotions and it is a part of leadership decision making. Prior research suggests that emotional intelligence is real and necessary when it comes to a leader making ethical decisions because emotions are presented in ethical dilemmas, so they are processed by the abilities included in Emotional Intelligence. The management of emotions ability of Emotional Intelligence helps to achieve productive outcomes in decision making because it modifies the emotions in a helpful way, such as reducing the effects of negative emotions like sadness and anger on decision making. This research further examined this by testing if effective management of Emotional Intelligence results in better ethical decisions, playing a major role when negative emotions are associated with the decision and playing a smaller role when there are not negative emotions to handle. It was determined that the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and Ethical decision making is significant, as individuals with high Emotional Intelligence are better at dealing with emotions and arrive at more ethical decisions than a person with low Emotional Intelligence (Krishnakumar & Rymph, 2012).

Success in Ethical Decisions

Critical success factors that result in ethical decision making according to this article are that employees and managers need to be aware of and be trained to be aware of how their emotions may bias their ethical decision making, especially when friends or coworkers are involved in the situation. Emotional intelligence needs to be valued and understood in organizations so that they can use it when they are hiring new employees they can utilize it to make their hiring selections as well as using high emotional intelligent employees in uncomfortable, emotional ethical situations. Understanding emotional intelligence will help members of the organization interpret ethical clues to allow for good interpretations of ethical situations (Krishnakumar & Rymph, 2012).

Influences on Decision Making

Ethics, moral dilemmas, and philosophy influence leadership decision making by shaping the choices that individuals make. When a leader is presented with a moral dilemma, the ethics of that leader will determine if they make a decision based on what is right or what are the consequences. Doing what is right is the framework for how a leader should behave and by following this moral philosophy, a leader will likely make a good ethical decisions because of their perceived obligation to others, regardless of the consequences. The ethics and values of leaders play a role in their decision making process and what pieces of information they utilize and what information they ignore. Morality is an emotional concept for decision makers.


Coughlan, R., & Connolly, T. (2008). Investigating unethical decisions at work: justification and emotion in dilemma resolution. Journal of Managerial Issues20(3), 348+. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A188064186/ITBC?u=buenavista&sid=ITBC&xid=a1f4c8c0 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Krishnakumar, Sukumarakurup, and Maria Evglevskikh. “Acquiring emotional sea legs: navigating joy and sadness in ethical decisions.” Journal of Managerial Issues, vol. 28, no. 1-2, 2016, p. 101+. Business Collection, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A453287220/ITBC?u=buenavista&sid=ITBC&xid=1c07e486. Accessed 22 Jan. 2019.

Krishnakumar, S., & Rymph, D. (2012). Uncomfortable ethical decisions: the role of negative emotions and emotional intelligence in ethical decision-making. Journal of Managerial Issues24(3), 321+. Retrieved from https://lib2.bvu.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=ITBC&sw=w&u=buenavista&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA320068340&asid=09e1d1614555a40a751a5c89c215fb4f (Links to an external site.)
 (Links to an external site.)

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Daniel Fortune is a successful business professional, entrepreneur, father, and lover of travel.

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