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Raghu Kalé


Rendezvous With Emotion

And its vital role in decision-making

Published: Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - 12:03

The mental makeup of the human mind is an enigma. Understanding reality has a bearing in comprehension. As a communications professional, I have grappled with what provokes audiences into believing a proposition, and what douses their suspicions and doubts. Emotion has a vital role in decision-making, which is best described through my own experiences.

Making short films is a hobby, and I’ve used it effectively over the years. The watershed moment for me was the stringent budget cuts that were self-imposed by my CEO after the tragedy of 9/11 that caused worldwide disruptions and tremendous anxiety. At the time I worked in the office of a premier luxury hospitality brand—The Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces. The directive by my boss said it all: “We can’t be seen as doing this. Find a way to be responsible.” I recall walking out of his office to my room next door and sinking back in my chair with a depressed feeling. That is when I determined that there was no need to engage an agency with high costs of production. Technology permits so much to be done, and with my background in advertising, communications, and my creative capabilities, I started my love affair with short films.

Today, I have a library of 200+ short films that I produced primarily to obtain efficiency in my communication budgets, prevent transmission loss of the message, and agency delays. Eager requests soon came from many colleagues, who were seeking help for short films for corporate pitches, business development, and marketing. They were keen to drop one digit from the far right for a 10X advantage in their expense budget or were running on tight deadlines.

Finding an emotional anchor is like spotting six differences in two identical pictures. It is a challenge hidden in plain sight. Now, let’s review the narrative above and see if you can place the emotional anchors: It has many layers wherein emotion was hidden in the decision-making somewhere:
• Anxiety plummeted enterprises during a few months of recession after 9/11.
• Stock markets around the world panicked. While everyone got a hard mandate of cost reduction in a measurable percentage drop, I got a soft mandate to find a way to be responsible. (My CEO was sensitive. I was allowed to decide what an appropriate drop in my budget was.)
• I was depressed because I wanted to get things done.

I made an empowered decision: I anchored in producing films by directly hiring studios and writing scripts. A decision rooted in emotion found its way to channel that energy into a passion. Potential energy turned into kinetic energy.

It is never easy to spot emotional anchors that influence the decision-making process; often, they are elusive.

By 2008, I was working in New York and witnessed the economic downturn that sent shock waves of panic around the world, and many companies downsized. The Tata conglomerate that I worked for has a 150-year legacy today. The Taj Hotels, where I worked, decided not to downsize but rather to adopt temporary cuts. Although the industry rampantly laid off, we did furloughs rather than layoffs. We agreed on 10-percent and 15-percent cuts for executives, no cuts for rank and file or middle management, and we promised to restore salaries by altering them for cost of living adjustments. Now I understand the difference between panic and urgency. Both are hidden emotional responses—one is a constructive passion for adhering to the values of the organization, and the other for passionately guarding the profitability alone.

Extraordinary stories about front-line associates at Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces going beyond the call of duty confirm that emotions persist at many levels. What explains the feeling that pushes people to endanger their own lives for another person or cause? When the Taj Hotel in Mumbai was under siege, its employees formed a human shield to evacuate guests to safety. This indeed is a subject of a Harvard case study and continues to baffle the students as they analyze the case as part of their learning.

As a communications professional, one must be able to see these hidden facets of an organization. Visualizing a picture of an organization is an art form not unlike studying a finished painting left behind by Claude Monet or Vincent van Gogh. Every decision, like every brush stroke, has its anchor in some emotion.

During a visit to Mumbai in 2007, I was tricked by my colleague. He was heading a business excellence support division for the conglomerate and requested a session with the team on climate crisis—48 hours before I was supposed to take a nonstop, 16-hour flight back to New York. The ploy was to spring a surprise and get me to commit to making a short film. At the time the term “climate change” was not in vogue; instead, “global warming” was. We had left-brain conversations during the meeting: how fast the carbon footprint was rising, what was needed to mitigate its reversal, and so on. Everyone had watched Al Gore’s campaign-propelled documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

My question was simple, “Who is the audience?” The response came quickly: “We have to educate the senior leadership about the urgency.” I reacted: “As if they don’t already know?” After some pondering, I took a very radical view. I agreed to make the film. I suggested that a group of children be shortlisted and brought to the studio, and I would have long conversations with them. They are, after all, the custodians of the future. I wanted to extract the relevant soundbites from these children. The idea was to stir up emotions to create passionate engagement with the subject of climate change. We aimed to touch the hearts of the leadership of more than 100 companies. And so the short film was shot in Mumbai, edited in the United States, and screened in Thailand for the leadership of the Tata conglomerate.

Emotion is all-pervasive in most decisions; politicians know this rather well. Corporate leaders sometimes overlook the collage of decision-making conjured by their board rooms and executive offices. Sometimes this collage resembles the Renaissance art of Leonardo da Vinci. In other instances, it looks more like the Dada art movement of Marcel Duchamp. But in either case, emotion is behind its creation.

First published May 11, 2020, on the thoughtLEADERS blog.


About The Author

Raghu Kalé’s picture

Raghu Kalé

Raghu Kalé is the author of Loyalty & Sacrifice: Ushering New Horizons for Business Leaders in the Digital Age, and is an accomplished communications professional who has positively impacted business outcomes by supporting corporate and operational strategy. Formerly the Vice President in the Office of the Brand Custodian of Tata Sons, Kalé has supported brand and marketing thought leadership initiatives for over 25 years.


Brain emotional circuitry is involved in all decision making

There are some good examples in this article, but we often do not have insight into how we actually work.  Often we are rationalizing animals more than rational animals if we don't look closely.  Brain emotional circuitry is part of decision making to either a greater or lesser extent.  Emotional input shouldn't be feared or necessarily avoided, particularly, as in the example with the children and climate change, when one is advocating for change.  "(From Darwin’s evolutionary perspective, emotion is adaptive, guiding us to make sound decisions in uncertainty." (Luo & Yu, Frontiers of Psychology, 2015)  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4422030/#:~:text=One%20common%20feature%20across%20the,choice%20in%20these%20two%20contexts.