People with high emotional intelligence seem to make better decisions than almost everyone else. How do they do?
There is a simple answer. But explaining it requires us to take a 250-word narrative detour to prove the point.
I hope you’ll bear with me, because it’s very helpful, and because after many years of writing for Inc.com and learning about emotional intelligence, I’ve learned to take lessons where you find them.
I found this one in an unlikely place: while interviewing the people in charge of franchise selection at Chick-fil-A.
Yes, Chick-fil-A: the controversial chicken fast food chain with delicious sandwiches (in my opinion), a no-open-on-Sundays policy (their choice) – and in this case, one of the problems America’s Weirdest Business.
Why do you want to own a Chick-fil-A?
The problem? Each year, Chick-fil-A receives about 60,000 initial franchise applications, but they only plan to open between 75 and 80 restaurants.
That leaves them with an acceptance rate of around 0.13% and trying to find needles in haystacks and diamonds in the rough and whatever other cliches you want to use to paint the picture.
To put this into context, according to the numbers, getting a Chick-fil-A franchise is harder than getting into Harvard University (3.2% acceptance rate) or become a US Navy SEAL (1.5% pass rate).
In fact that’s it so-absurdly-selective-it’s-funny level of competition that led me to study the business a few years ago.
Why so many people apply for Chick-fil-A franchises would take a whole other article. (I actually wrote this article in 2019.) The short version is that the franchise fees are very low, the reported annual income is quite high, and taking the first step requires very little effort.
(Details here; if you apply, beat the odds, and get a franchise, my family and I get free sandwiches for life. Deal?)
Either way, what people with high emotional intelligence get out of this culinary and entrepreneurial diversion has to do with one of the questions Chick-fil-A uses to narrow down its huge pool of candidates at every stage.
As Maureen Donahue, Executive Director of Franchisee Screening for Chick-fil-A, told me a few years ago, they ask this question over and over again:
“Why do you want to own a Chick-fil-A franchise restaurant?”
Deeper and deeper
You know what I mean? Simple – but not necessarily easy.
“There are all kinds of layers that we can extract from this kind of question,” Donahue told me. “We’re always curious about what they come to the table with, but certainly how the responses change and mature. It actually gets deeper in most cases as they respond later in the selection process.”
Now, do the folks at Chick-fil-A ever mention the phrase “emotional intelligence?”
But, with all due respect to anyone who runs a Chick-fil-A – a job I’d be absolutely awful for, I’m sure – I marvel that the most intense pepper in “Why do you want to do this?“The questions I encountered during my years of study in business, entrepreneurship and emotional intelligence, came in the context of selecting people to run fast food franchises.
I guess if you want to solve a problem, sometimes it helps to study entities whose very survival depends on solving that problem.
Anyway, since I discovered this technique while learning Chick-fil-A, I call it the Chick-fil-A rule. And, I think people with high emotional intelligence will recognize what this feels like:
- First, it identifies the vast majority of people whose motivation is unlikely to make them successful and who should no longer be considered. (In the case of Chick-fil-A, perhaps it was the relatively high salary that prompted them to apply, or the low barriers to entry, or even the prestige of the low acceptance rate).
- Second, it leaves a much smaller group: those who are motivated to apply because they possess the highly unusual combination of attributes, skills, and interests that past experience suggests might actually make them successful.
Every big decision
So tell me: why don’t people use this questioning strategy before making an important decision in life?
Trick question. Because whatever they call it, people with high emotional intelligence almost certainly use some version of this strategy.
Really, this applies everywhere: career decisions, business choices, personal relationships – basically all big decisions. Imagine forcing yourself to answer over and over again:
- Why do you want to do what you plan to do?
- Do you really and truly want to do it for a good, lasting reason that can position you for success?
- Or give in to emotions like (for example) lethargy: choose this path because it’s easier than questioning your motivation.
- Are you doing it out of guilt? Perhaps you chose this course of action because it matches what others expect of you?
- Do you do it out of inertia? Maybe you already have so many sunk costs that admitting you need to pivot leads to emotional baggage?
- Or maybe – and the biggest pitfall, I think – is it possible that you are doing it out of fear: fear of the questions you will have to ask next if you decide not to?
Follow the answers
Good questions. In all honesty, if I had forced myself to answer this honestly at earlier stages of my life, there are a few decisions I could have made differently.
Remember, though, that at Chick-fil-A, it’s really a three-part, iterative process:
- They ask the person making the request to think about the question.
- They force him to sing it repeatedly.
- Then they track the responses over time, looking for change and growth.
People with high emotional intelligence recognize that these elements are all part and parcel of the process, and they can take many forms as well.
In practical terms, this may mean establishing conversations with trusted confidants, who will question you and help you sort out your answers as you explore big decisions.
If that’s not comfortable or practical, maybe it means answering the “why” questions over and over again by writing in a journal, then thinking back to your “prior self” answer.
Asking the “why” questions is important. Asking them repeatedly is important. And, studying the answers and playing devil’s advocate is also important.
A particularly important rule
Listen, if a single person reads this article and thinks more about whether to borrow money for higher education (timely example), or is considering whether or not to pursue a career primarily because their parents or mentors are waiting – or for that matter, really force themselves to really think hard about whether the relationship they’re in is right for them (sorry if this hits close to home), then I’ll feel like I’ve done my job .
Over the years, most of the emotional intelligence rules I’ve shared here on Inc.com focus on the intersection between your emotions, the emotions of others, and objective truth – harnessing them all to improve your odds. to achieve your goals. .
But this one is really more personal, and perhaps more important.
The Chick-fil-A rule is about protecting yourself from your own emotions and defending yourself against how they can lead you astray to make less than optimal decisions – often without you realizing it until it’s too late.
As I write in my free ebook, 9 Smart Habits of People With High Emotional Intelligencemost people like having choices, but they don’t really like making decisions.
And that’s just it. The Chick-fil-A rule is about making better decisions. It’s simple, but it’s very rarely easy.
And maybe that’s why it works.