Decision Making in a Pandemic

By Luc Beaudry, Canadian Management Centre

decision making in a pandemic image

Few of us enjoy the feeling of having little or no control and, as we prepare to transition out of lockdown mode, the future is more uncertain than ever. The decisions to be made will be plentiful and whether you are making them for your business, your team or yourself, the current state of uncertainty will make decision-making more challenging. This article from Psychology Compass maps out a Control-Based decision-making model to give you back control and increase your decision-making efficiency. We’ve distilled its essential elements here for you.

Why it’s so hard
Our brain likes certainty and its absence negatively impacts our decision-making ability. The greater the uncertainty, the greater the anxiety; and the greater the need for a structured approach to decision-making.  The Control-Based decision-making model is about challenging how you think, feel and act by managing yourself and your situations.

Self-Management: Regain internal control

  • Increase the flexibility of your thinking
    • Your brain is particularly effective at taking mental shortcuts (heuristics) that can hinder effective decision-making. Here’s what to do about it:
      • Override the confirmation bias by proving yourself wrong, either by being your own devil’s advocate or by asking someone else to do it for you. This will broaden your perspective and bring new options to light
      • Override the sunk cost fallacy: avoid doubling-down just because you’ve invested time or money into something when it’s no longer the best route forward. Do this by having clear measures of success and some defined cut-off points. This way, you’ll have the clarity to know when to switch to a different strategy.
    • Acknowledge and calm your feelings
      • Whether you like it or not, your decision-making is influenced by both your rational and emotional brains. It stands to reason that your rational brain is at its best when you are calm. Consider:
      • Deep breathing: slow things down. In through your nose, out through your mouth… that’s it! Repeat.
      • Progressive muscle relaxation: tense and relax one muscle group at a time.
      • Journaling: non-judgmentally write down the emotions you are experiencing and how they are affecting your mood, behaviours and thoughts. Just notice and write. This practice of observation and acceptance creates a bit of distance and puts you in a better decision-making state.
    • Focus your actions
      • Resist your natural inclination toward immediate solution-finding. Focus first on describing and defining the problem as accurately as possible. Instead of seeking advice about what action you should take, have others ask you questions that will help you clearly define the problem.
      • Avoid “overwhelm” and streamline solutions by avoiding the conformity trap and by  giving a heavy weighting to your own opinion, solutions and experiences. 

Situational Management: Regain external control
In a nutshell, you always have a choice. Here’s how to take advantage of it:

  • Select the situations that are good for you
    • Decision-making situations: Alone in a quiet space or with a group of friends to talk things through? When is your mind at its best; early in the day or after busting through the 2pm wall?
    • Situations you live and work in: it can be quite empowering to remind yourself that you are constantly choosing option A (e.g. juggling work, home and community) instead of option B (e.g. dropping everything) for a reason (e.g. because you honour your commitments and want to feel challenged). 
  • Modify the situations you are already in
    • For example, if a decision needs to be made by you and your peers together, and this is not your preferred process:
      • First, identify what it is about that situation that hinders your decision-making comfort (e.g. if you’re not a “think out loud on the spot” person)
      • Second, explore options for what you can modify (e.g. ask for key questions ahead of time and prepare some notes)

Remember, no matter what else is happening in the world around you, you have sole ownership of how you think, feel and act. How’s that for control?

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