The Rational Mind & the Emotional Mind


Why are Social Media mistakes so common?  Because, according to Daniel Goleman, “It takes the rational mind a moment or two longer to register and respond than it does the emotional mind.”  The first impulse is the heart’s, not the head’s.   Many successful leaders learn patience with experience, since they learn that a moment of impatience can lead to a lifetime of regret.  As such, experienced leaders are less likely to be reactionary than their younger, inexperienced successors, the Millennials/Gen Y.

However, older managers are not immune to the powers of the emotional mind if there exist unresolved issues.   As Sigmund Freud made clear, we often have feelings that do not always cross the threshold into awareness; these emotions shape our frame of reference (how we perceive reality) – and because we are unconscious to what has triggered them, we are typically unaware they are at work.

Self-Awareness & the Samurai

An old Japanese story tells of a samurai who challenged a Zen master to explain the concept of Heaven and Hell.  The monk scornfully and dismissively replied, “Why should I waste my time explaining that to such an intellectually inferior pig?!”  Enraged by the perceived attack on his honor, the samurai unsheathed his sword and yelled, “I could decapitate you for such disrespect!!”  With Zen-like calmness, the monk replied, “THAT is Hell.”  Struck with the truth, the Samurai instantly realized how he had surrendered his power to the grip of rage; he sheathed his sword, became calm, bowed deeply, and respectfully thanked the monk for the insight.  “And THAT,” the monk added, “is Heaven.”

Self-awareness does not get carried away by sudden anger.  It does not amplify what is perceived.  Rather, it is a neutral mode that maintains self-reflection even when emotions are turbulent.  It is the difference between, for example, stomping away flushed red from rage to having the self-reflexive thought “This is anger I’m feeling” even as you are enraged.


Effective leaders are human (not Vulcan), which means it is natural to experience emotions.  Moods, however, are private, subjective experiences of feeling; and anger is the mood people are worst at controlling.  This is because unlike sadness, anger is energizing.  Daniel Goleman wrote, “Anger is the most seductive of the negative emotions; the self-righteous inner monologue that propels it along fills the mind with the most convincing arguments for venting rage.”  Benjamin Franklin once said, “Anger is never without a reason, but seldom a good one.”  This is because the emotional mind is associative; it takes elements that symbolize a reality (which may be pure perception) or trigger a memory, to be the same as that reality.  And, what was once the case of ill-intent may no longer be.

If a colleague, boss, or peer believes him/herself to be victimized, so begins the emotional hijacking.  The rational mind is left in the cold because of the righteous indignation – which is the reactive anger to perceived mistreatment or insult.  Once these distressing thoughts are in play, they become unwavering beliefs and are self-confirming, which is a childlike mode.  Any evidence to the contrary is discounted.  The victim seeks out only the data that confirms his/her beliefs; any acts of kindness are arbitrary — it may even be perceived as false attempts to deny transgressions.


  1. Freeze Frame.  Reframing a situation (focus on the positive) can quell anger.  If there was no benefit from the immediate situation, then there typically was some positive exchange from the individual overall.  This is what some people refer to as an attitude of gratitude.  What gain was there?
  2. Yesterday’s Exam.  Effective leaders feel they gain more from their failures than from their successes and will attest that the past does not define them, rather it prepares them…it is a lesson from which to draw and guide others.
  3. Own Up.  Understanding our own accountability will typically minimize the feeling of victimhood, as the feeling of empowerment increases with the acknowledgement of choice.  Effective leaders know their role in failing to lead their personnel to succeed.
  4. Stay Attuned.  If you notice the physiological effects that anger creates in your system (e.g. heart palpitations, etc), it may distract you enough from the anger build to combat those symptoms.
  5. Choice.  Decide that you will no longer feel this way.  Eleanor Roosevelt wisely stated:  “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  You can change or you can leave; don’t deflect.
  6. Avoid Repression.  The feelings must be resolved, or else they will re-surface in other ways.  Naturally, the self-perceived victim may need to go beyond Executive Coaching or, Organization Development consultation, to psychotherapy if the following defense mechanisms continue to occur:
    1. Projection– the process in which we attribute something about ourselves onto someone else.  Example:  “He is a liar!” when the colleague him/herself does not practice authenticity.
    2. Transference- As with the Samurai, the colleague relates to his/her peer in a way that is reflective of an earlier unresolved relationship.  It’s a distortion of the real relationship and interaction between work colleagues.
    3. Countertransference- This is when your “stuff” and the other person’s “stuff” collide.  When the “victim” out of righteous indignation either intentionally or unintentionally acts out at you or against you, it pushes your buttons and sets off your emotional mind to be reactive.

Effective leaders know how to practice Emotional Intelligence, which is a meld of the Rational and the Emotional Mind.  This is how Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock made such a dynamic team on Star Trek.  Mr. Spock:  “I am pleased to see that we are different.  May we together become greater than the sum of both of us.”

Go forth and prosper!

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.



Goleman, Daniel.  Emotional Intelligence.  New York, NY: Bantam Books.  1995. Pp. 59; 293.


About Rossina

Thought Partner & Corporate Primatologist

Posted on January 8, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Rossina, I really like this article. And it reminds me of the old proverb, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, which is only fair as their faces are mostly pressed into it”! I think Jesus might have said it.

    Michael Young


    Have a fantastic day!


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