Decisions are a necessary part of our lives, personally and professionally.
Many of us struggle with feelings of doubt or uncertainty when faced with making a decision, large or small. Often we won’t know the outcome of our decisions for days, weeks, months or even years, which further drives anxiety. Research tells us it is better to make a poor decision than no decision, so what can we do to improve our decision-making skill?
The good news is we can deploy many disciplines and techniques to improve our decision-making skills. In this article, we will talk about one option — creating emotional distance.
Years ago I made a pact with myself that I would no longer purchase clothing unless I absolutely loved the way it fit. The distinction here was in loving the fit, not just the article of clothing. I grew tired of the growing number of "cute things" in my closet that I would put on in the morning, take one look in the mirror, and then choose something that "looked better on."
This was one small way to help me distance myself, emotionally, from loving, and therefore wanting, a cute new top or dress.
In our professional lives, we don’t generally have trying it on as an option when faced with a decision. Fortunately, we have other options to provide emotional distance.
Let’s first discuss what I mean by emotional distance. Most decisions we face include people, product lines or relationships. When faced with an important decision, the short-term emotional charge (good or bad) can override our rational thought processes. Most of us have probably heard that most decisions are made on an emotional level, and then we look for ways to rationally support our decision. What we need to do is short-circuit the instinct to make emotional decisions and allow rational thoughts to prevail — or at least have significant influence.
To do this, ask yourself (or your team or colleague), “If we suddenly found ourselves replaced with a new leadership team, what decision would they make faced with the same information and data?”
This sounds simple, but it helps emotionally shift your mind to a more objective space. This is what Andy Grove did at Intel that helped them break free of their failing memory business and go all in on their microprocessor business. Once they asked that question of themselves, it became clear they were emotionally attached to their first product — their first love — long after it was a viable product line for them.
Another question that works well is, “What advice would you give your colleague (best friend)?” Pivoting our frame of reference challenges us to think about what advice we would provide to someone else with the same issue/opportunity and accompanying data. This helps leverage the superpower of emotional distancing: it is much easier to make conclusions about what we think others should do when we are not the one directly affected.
We have all watched a friend or a colleague make what we see as a seemingly poor or even potentially dangerous decision and wonder how our smart friend/colleague doesn’t see what we can see. By being more objective in viewing our alternatives, it becomes easier to make decisions.
And finally, we can deploy the 10-10-10 rule. This is great for decisions that require you to act or not act. Ask yourself, “If I (do or not do this thing), how will I feel about the possible outcomes/consequences in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years?” This helps create emotional distance by determining if our immediate emotional response is warranted — an exciting job opportunity or voicing a dissenting opinion in a staff meeting.
Consider the aforementioned dissenting opinion. What is the impact of the worst and best scenarios and what will those look and feel like in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years? When you use this lens, many times the clear option is to speak up. Your immediate emotional reaction (fear) that wants to keep you silent is very short-term. Better decisions focus on the long-term outcomes.
These are just a handful of strategies to help you emotionally distance yourself from a decision.
Creating actual distance, like a waiting period (something I do for any frivolous purchase), is an option that works well when the emotion is positive. Putting distance after the euphoric rush of a new job opportunity, product line, purchase (there are some very talented sales people out there!) will cool down your heat-of-the-moment urge to jump.
Give one of these strategies a try the next time you are faced with a decision that stirs up your emotions — good or bad. Several other tools and disciplines are available. "Decisive" by the Heath Brothers is a good place to start.
As a leader, you can help individuals in your organization make better decisions by teaching them to ask questions that help create space — the space necessary to see the issue from a different perspective.
Cheri Kuhn is a Professional EOS Implementer and founder of the Perfect Planner. Read her leadership blogs at traction-advantage.com/news/.