Plan trumps gut in decision-making

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un (L) and US President Donald Trump
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un (L) and US President Donald Trump shake hands after their meetings at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. AFP PHOTO  

The world watched in astonishment this week as the President of the United States grovelled in front of the President of the Russian Federation. A leader of one nation accused his own country of unspeakable incompetence and fraud while in the presence of and praising a leader of another competing nation accused of crimes.

But many in the academic world who watch and study President Trump’s behaviour were not surprised. President Putin seems to have easily outsmarted and manipulated his American counterpart’s subconscious thinking.

Similarly, President Trump also spectacularly failed in his meeting and negotiation with North Korea’s absolute monarch and Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea Kim Jong-un. As you may recall, prior to that meeting, President Trump famously proclaimed that he did not need prepare for the negotiations and instead stated that he would follow his gut instincts. His gut dispositions also led him to lash out at America’s closest allies in NATO last week who have mutual defence treaties with the United States.

President Trump’s shocking admiration for dictators and his disdain for democratic allies all seems tied to his unchecked subconscious urges.

His continuous disastrous performances on the world stage highlight the urgent need for our own national political, community, non-profit, educational, and business leaders here in Kenya to understand the science of the brain and how to make appropriate decisions and not be duped like President Trump. As humans, we are prone to the urges of our subconscious. Our subconscious provides us with our primordial impulses such as our lust for another person, our hunger, and our emotions among others.


World leaders know that President Trump deeply admires strong forceful leaders and they understand that he does not prepare for meetings and relies solely on his subconscious compulsions.

So, in meetings, these leaders can sit in certain power poses, use specific power tones and inflections in their voices, implore aggressive movements while with the American president and get his respect and trust all the while he remains none the wiser.

Unfortunately, research out of the Mayo Clinic shows that relying on your subconscious gut for decision-making yields wrong choices a shocking 46 per cent of the time.

Mountains of other social science research support the warning that leaders should take a more critical look at determinations instead of relying on their gut.

Before making a major decision, sit down in a quiet place where you will not be interrupted. Interrupted thoughts lead to poorer decision-making.

List all the costs as well as all the benefits for each decision option. Factor in other decision possibilities besides just simple “yes” and “no” by factoring in shades of “maybe” under different circumstances.

Then immediately after making your list, acknowledge how each one of the options makes you feel in your gut. Then put the topic out of your mind for at least two hours if you have the time.

Next, go back and think logically about each cost and benefit again and then proceed to make your decision. Such a multi-method approach is key to harnessing the power of both your conscious and subconscious.

Also, before entering negotiations, write down all the possible scenarios that could develop from the intercession. In regard to each scenario, write down your negotiating “ideal” position as well as your “must haves” that represent lines you will not cross or give away.

Then consciously thinking about how you expect the other party to respond to each of your negotiating positions and plan your counter responses. Proper planning when going into negotiations and decision-making trumps using one’s gut. Pun intended.