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Effective Decision Making in Times of Uncertainty

“There will be very few occasions when you are absolutely certain about anything. You will consistently be called upon to make decisions with limited information. That being the case, your goal should not be to eliminate uncertainty. Instead, you must develop the art of being clear in the face of uncertainty.”

–Andy Stanley, Leadership Author and Speaker

How we make decisions impacts us every day… oftentimes we need to make decisions in times of unfamiliarity, ambiguity and instability. When we are unable to make decisions based on accuracy or precision, how can we make sure our decisions still lead to desirable outcomes? Let's find out!

Being mindful of Conscious Framing and Bias Mitigation when making decisions is essential for effectiveness.

Conscious Framing

*How you frame the issue IS the issue*

When making decisions, the frame you choose creates the boundary around a decision and determines what you will focus on.

It determines:

  • What data or events you pay attention to

  • What you prioritize

  • What you consider irrelevant

  • What you believe your options are

  • Where you think you will gain the greatest leverage

As leaders, we need to inspire others to see the relevance of what they are doing to the bigger picture or vision.

When framing:

  • See the obstacle as an opportunity and convey that actively to those involved.

  • Let people on the team know that their role is essential to the project’s success.

  • Ensure frequent communication about the purpose and importance of the project.

Bias Mitigation

Biases exist at many different levels (ex. Individual, group, organizational) and have the power to impact how we process our thoughts. As the team at Google puts it, you need to “give your first thought a second look.”

Specifically, in times of uncertainty it is important to be aware of “Emotional tagging”. This is a type of bias where the brain stores an emotion with a memory of an event or action. EMOTIONS CAN BE VERY POWERFUL. When our emotions are involved they significantly influence our decisions. Emotions change our behaviour and thought process long before we realize it. When we think about times of uncertainty ( i.e. global pandemic), emotions are heightened and it becomes more challenging to follow logic.

4 Types of Emotional Tags

  1. Misleading experiences- Do you have related experiences that may be misleading?

  2. Misleading prejudgments- Do you have related judgements that may be misleading?

  3. Inappropriate attachments- Do any people, places or things hold attachment or hostility in this process?

  4. Inappropriate self- interests- Are there options that are particularly attractive or unattractive, especially short term?

Tactics to mitigate cognitive biases:

  1. Take time to rest and reset

  2. Actively seek disconfirming evidence (devil’s advocate)

  3. Reword the frame

  4. Increase the diversity of perspectives

As leaders, making decisions in less than ideal circumstances are inevitable. It is important that we are aware of high quality decision making processes to optimize our decision-making capabilities. After all, effective leadership is not a position or title, it is an action and example.

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