Leading with Emotional Intelligence

Tools and strategies to put you and your team in the top 10 percent.

Dumb Questions, Dumb Answers and Dumbed Down Decisions

Are you on automatic or conscious and in charge of your life and contributions?

Executive Decision Making

Dumb Questions, Dumb Answers

Dumb Questions, Dumb Answers and Dumbed Down Decisions: Who is in Charge of Your Decisions?

We have been exploring the Emotional Intelligence competency of Confidence or Self-Regard. This blog is on how your thinking impacts your decisions, judgments and success. The strategy below is an excerpt of one of the 10 strategies to raise your Confidence in my book, Leading with Emotional Intelligence. As an Executive Coach, one consistent strategy I use with executives is to help them be more in charge of their default or automatic thought process. 

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In Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, Decisive, they write: “Why do we have such a hard time making good choices? …When it comes to making decisions, it is clear that our brains are flawed instruments.”

When we reflect on our thinking, we usually ask ourselves a series of questions as many as 50,000 a day. This is an unconscious process that stimulates the answers, such as: What am I going to do about this project? Why is my co-worker so uncooperative? Why did I get passed over at the last promotion?                

One of thinking errors I speak to executives about is: My thoughts are facts. Because I thought it, therefore it is true.

Daniel Kahneman, in his Thinking, Fast and Slow book, explains one reason why we make dumb decisions. It is the:

Affect Heuristicwhere judgments and decisions are guided directly by feelings of liking and disliking, with little deliberation or reasoning.” 

If we ask ourselves poor, biased and narrow questions, we will get answers that are negative, not helpful or proactive. The brain has been compared to a computer, even though it is far more complex. When we ask ourselves a question, it is like doing a Google search for information in your brain. Our brain runs through its files to bring up an answer on our screen of awareness. We take this answer as a fact and move forward without questioning the process.

Part of being more confident is to be more aware, mindful and awake when you ask yourself internal questions. When you pay more attention, you may notice that the questions often catalyze a cascade of negative responses and a familiar pattern of “Being on Your Case,” the focus of the last blog. Bad questions get bad answers and you can make dumb decisions as a result.

Your questions can “lead the witness” with inferences that a judge wouldn’t allow in a court of law. The famous “When did you stop beating your wife?” is an example of getting stuck in a nasty loop. Unfortunately, when we ask ourselves self-deprecating questions we rarely come back with an “objection” to the kind of negative answer that comes up. Nor do we consider the fact that this knee-jerk answer may not be true and is simply a reflection of how we have programmed ourselves in the past.


Are any of these questions familiar?

  • Why am I always screwing up?
  • How come I’m not good enough?
  • How could I be so stupid?
  • Why didn’t I say something smart at the meeting?
  • When will I finally learn?

The brain searches your history and comes up with pat answers such as: “I have always been a slow learner,” or “I am not as smart as others,” or “I am always making stupid mistakes,” or “I’ll never get ahead.” These programmed responses make you hang your head and lose your confidence.

It’s time to take control of the programming of negative automatic self-talk. Let your brain search its files for a more positive, constructive, and useful answer.

The questions and actions below can help you in this process.

Questions and Action Applications:

  • Be more aware of the questions you ask yourself. Write them down and collect them over a week.
  • Ask your questions out loud. Listen, and then evaluate what you are really asking your brain to search for.
  • Are your questions positive or negative?
  • What kind of answers are you getting?
  • Evaluate the biases in your questions. Are you leading the witness? Are you setting yourself up for failure? Would a judge allow your questions?
  • Are you using over-generalized words such as “always” and “never”?

Five Better Search Questions: Using the following five questions will consistently lead to better answers. Think of a situation for reflection. Now use the questions to generate positive confidence-building answers:

  • What can I learn here?
  • How can I be more on my side?
  • What do I feel good about here?
  • How do I best deal with this situation?
  • How do I bring all my resources to this issue?

This search will generate better questions for better answers and solutions.

Are you on automatic, or are you conscious and in charge of your thoughts, decisions and contributions?

Relly Nadler, M.C.C., is a licensed psychologist, author and Master Certified Coach (MCC) for executives and executive teams. more...

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