Better Decision Making

The financial impact of recent events means that many of us are having to make decisions.  This week I was chatting to a friend who has built up a service business yet now he is spending real money on overheads with no immediate prospect of business.  Another friend is trying to decide if it is wise to go ahead with a house purchase – he and his wife love the house, but is the price now too high and is his income secure enough to take on the mortgage?

This got me thinking about the way people make decisions.  And in particular how can we avoid making the poor decisions… and make the right decisions more often.

I recalled this Harvard Business Review article from a while back: “Why good leaders make bad decisions.”  The authors looked at 83 decision which, with hindsight, they were able to classify as bad – either based on error or having adverse consequences or both.  Here.

In summary, the paper suggests that when confronted with a situation (1) we rely on pattern recognition – to inform us if we have seen a similar situation before, and (2)  we are influenced by subconscious emotional tagging which may bias our reactions and our responses.  The problem here is that we often unconsciously process a situation without proper analysis.  Thus our pattern recognition may seize on similarities yet miss subtleties or even significant differences between our current situation and some previous situation.  Similarly our emotional tagging can introduce misplaced confidence or even emotions that may bias us away from some interpretation or to avoid certain actions.

The article says way out is to prevent these thought  processes to be done “automatically”.  From a mindfulness standpoint, we would say you need to be objectively-aware and questioning.

The authors highlight three “red flags” which if present can lead to misleading pattern recognition and unhelpful or erroneous emotional tagging) conscious or unconscious –

  1. The presence of self-interest, attachments to things ideas, bonuses etc.
  2. Presence of distorting attachments – people, places, processes, structures – in which we have invested time, effort… hope (dreams) and even our personal reputation.  We don’t want to make decisions that is detrimental to these attachments or represent a retreat.
  3. Misleading memories – these can quickly cause is to skip over details or differences ( – and memories are often not accurate ); or we may attach emotions to these recollection that increases their influence upon us.

I would add that we all have biases… confirmations bias, or even cognitive dissonance when the facts start diverging – so we must always be wary of any tendency to be biased.

The article suggests working with someone who does not have the attachments or previous experiences or to go through the situation and out analysis objectively.

Yet I would go further.

When a crisis strikes people often expect leaders to demonstrate confidence and a clear route out of the situation.  Yet this can cause leader to feel pressured to make snap decisions. IMO, a leader should resist kneejerk interpretations and responses – by remaining aware and curious – without rushing to judge.  This can be difficult, as people expect a leader to act decisively… and it will take self-confidence to say “Hold on – we need to look this a little more.”

The McKinsey paper “How to demonstrate calm and optimism in a crisis” is a useful guide here.  In any crisis a leader should exhibit calmness and realism – being open about the uncertainties and the unknowns while being optimistic that a solution will be found.  The leader can then set in place the activities to deal with the situation, to analyse the information and to identify and plan the actions to be taken.

This mixing of confidence, hope and realism is the key.  Humans are wired to pick up on signs of uncertainly and bewilderment from others.  So, all communication needs to be carefully planned to avoid in appreciate phrases and to emphasise the key messages.

The McKinsey paper introduces “Integrative awareness” – being aware of the changing reality in the outside world and how you are responding emotionally and physically –  to ensure that leader can make the right assessments and to assess the merits of the different actions available, before proceeding with the execution of the chosen actions.

And I would go further still.

A great book on my shelf is an old copy of “Crisis Management” by Michael Regester.  This book taught me that in any crisis there are some key things that a leader must do:

  1. Empathise with those impacted by the situation – so that they know that you are aware of their experiences and difficulties. This reduces their need to tell you.
  2. Implement remedial actions – to clean things up and provide immediate relief (provide a pump and mop).
  3. Implement temporary processes or solutions to prevent any re-occurrence or worsening of the situation, yet allow activity to continue safely. (Turn the water off and provide bottled water.)
  4. Start to work a longer term solution – through investigation and then careful selection of the appropriate actions.

But is it this forth point that brings us back to the decisions we have to take – what is happening and what are we going to do?  Analysis and Response.

To facilitate “clear thought” in a time of crisis there a few of things to put in place ahead of time.

  • I have said before that in any crisis we don’t want to start questioning the integrity of any data /information streams – so if you don’t trust them now then change them before any crisis emerges.
  • Further, it is important that we have a team of diverse colleagues with whom you can consult… and these should be from outside your business or organisation and from a wide variety of backgrounds (discipline, sex, age, race and economic demographics  – see Matthew Syed’s “Rebel Thinking”). These colleagues may have different experiences of analogous situations – to help you determine what is going on and ways to address the situation – or they may spot downsides to any possible actions that you may have missed or have been insensitive to. Be ready to make contact with them and seek their input. Answer their questions.
  • Work on improving you own mindfulness skills – both to become more aware and objective without rushing to judge situations and also to respond better to the behaviours and emotions of others.  In any crisis people will believe they are seeing the real you.

So, when the dirt hits the fan, is our analysis right?  And, In terms of the responses available to us, “our choices”, then have we considered the impacts of these choices… both if our assumptions are right and if they are wrong?

We can also note that choices with no downside and little cost may be taken in parallel with more significant actions (as safety nets or hedging out bets); while choices with the possibility of serious downsides may mean we need to further validate the situation more before going ahead.

I suggest that someone on your team (not you) should consider the following checklist – then you should discus and improve it:

Your analysis – understanding of what is happening:

  • If your analysis of the situation is right then what will happen next – are there any signs that this is happening?
  • If your analysis of the situation is wrong then what will happen next – are there any signs that this is happening?

Your choices of response:

  • Look at your options and write down the downsides
  • If your chosen actions fail – then how could put safety nets in pace?   (Belt and braces)
  • Look at the actions that might be helpful if your analysis is wrong (hedge your bets).
  • Are there any low cost, yet low downside, actions to cover other versions of the situation?

Monitoring the effectiveness of you actions:

  • If your actions are effective what will the early signs be?
  • If your actions are ineffective then what will the early signs be?


The final aspects to consider are the execution and the communication.

The execution must be realistic.  It should include ongoing monitoring for any early signs that the analysis on which your decisions were based continues to be valid and for any signs that your actions are not effective.  Further, it is important that at every stage you should engage with staff and ask them if they have any concerns going forward – this will empower them to flag up any flaws that they foresee, but that you may have missed.

It is essential that all communication – with staff, customers or stakeholders –  is carefully planned and that you consider the questions that may be raised.  If you get a hard question then don’t ignore it. Explain that you are trying hard to get this message or that message across so that everyone understands what you are saying; yet be ready to accept that there are still some uncertainties or decisions to be taken… and that as things become clearer it will be problem to make better informed decisions. Be clear that there is a way forward.  Calmness, realism and optimism.

Re-entering the work place

If not already, then in the coming weeks and months many of us will be re-entering the workplace – and we may be challenged by a need to change.

Some may be returning to their previous workplace or employer – but may find that they are required to adjust to new structures, processes, practices or to new consumer demands. Others may be starting over in a new role or with a new employer.

So, we may feel angry that our workplace has changed or that we have been forced to take up new employment – yet we must accept that we can’t expect everything to remain the same. There wouldn’t be a future in working in a role that is no longer required or within a company that can no longer compete.  It is best to accept and embrace the challenge… and to focus on how we can successfully make this transition… both in terms of our performance and our wellbeing.

Embarking on a new role or in a new job can be an anxious time. To feel some anxiety about starting a new job is completely normal. In fact, science tells us that people are “hard-wired” to feel anxious in pretty much any new situation. With the added pressure of wanting to make a good first impression with your new boss, or to excel in your job right off the bat, it’s no surprise that making the career move, by choice or by necessity, can be a very anxious time.

Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist says, “For a lot of people, starting a new job taps into old fears — like your first day of school. There’s also what we call anticipatory anxiety.” So, to be clear, in such situations, then some nervousness or anxiety is to be expected and is completely normal.  Even those co-workers who don’t appear to be nervous are just better at hiding it.   Remind yourself that some anxiety is not only normal, but helpful: i.e. some level of anxiety helps to keep us focused and to keep us engaged.  Tell yourself that you are experiencing anxiety because you care about what you’re doing.

So wherever you are in your career, starting a new job can be scary.  You may be worried about performing well, you won’t know anyone, you’ll be oblivious to the team dynamics and politics, and even your job role may be a mystery to you. Who isn’t scared of the unknown?

Now, before going on, I want to introduce three topics: Change, Imposter Syndrome and Self-Compassion.


When we are asked to make some change we may encounter a series of emotions: denial (that the change has to happen), anger (that change is being imposed up on us); grief (for the loss of a familiar workplace or colleagues); through to acceptance and then on to positively embrace the change.

Yet change can be disconcerting for us; as it may wash away the work and processes that staff have previously striven to implement or to master. It may feel as if the work we have done before, or, our previous accomplishments are no longer of value.

Without change, organisations would be unable to adapt to compete or even to survive.  There would be no future working in an organisation clinging to the past.  So, change is inevitable at work – and in our lives.

I previously posted about the benefit of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) in any change management programme.  Here.

Research from “change management initiatives” demonstrates that training in mindfulness makes employees: more open to new ideas ( – less resistant, less anxious, less denial); better able to deal with stress and challenges; more self-confident with greater self-esteem – to embrace change.

A study of employees given MBCT training prior to a major change project (processes, systems and jobs) showed:

  • 83% said meditation helped them through a significant change
  • Those who rated their resilience as “High” increased from 10% to 70%
  • Those who rated their ability to handle stress as “High” went from 11% to 66%
  • Emotional awareness (11% to 89%) positivity (16% to 84%) feeling in control (28 to 72%)
  • MBCT Prevents loss in trust and increase in job satisfaction

The Rezl Toolbox includes a tutorial and a meditation on the subject of dealing with change – try it.

Imposer Syndrome

When starting a new job, it can appear that everyone else knows so much, or, that you have so a lot learn; and you may wonder if you will be able to make the grade.

Impostor Syndrome is where a you start to doubt that you are good enough… and so you may fear being exposed as a fraud.  A voice inside your head tells you that you are not as good as your colleagues, or, that you do not have the skills, ability or experience to be doing your job.  You start to believe that you have no right to be doing what you are doing; that you do not deserve success; and that sooner or later you will be exposed… as a fraud… as an impostor.

I previously wrote about Impostor Syndrome here.

Yet a mindfulness-based approach is very effective in reducing these feeling.   Tell yourself that you are gaining skills, experience and knowledge – and that there is no reason why you cannot be as effective as your colleagues… and probably better.  It is just a case of effort and practice so that you will learn how to be the most effective member of the team.  Accept that you cannot be expected to know everything and that you will make errors sometimes…  but that you will learn from these experiences so that you  will not repeat such errors – everybody learns and develops in this way.

You are “good enough” –  so set aside any emotional reactions that may chip away at your confidence and cause you to develop impostor syndrome.


Self-Compassion is our ability to show ourselves understanding and compassion when we encounter a set-back or when we endure a difficult situation.  If a friend was experiencing a loss or suffering, we would show them empathy, compassion and support – so why not show ourselves the same?

If we are too hard on ourselves then we may start to imagine that we are not good enough and that we are doomed to fail – this may cause low mood or even anxiety about our future.  So, it is good to take time out to acknowledges our successes (even small ones); … and we should also show ourselves self-compassion and encouragement where things have not gone as we had hoped.

The Rezl Foundation Programme includes a tutorial and meditation on the topic of self-compassion.

So below, I have set out some thoughts to help you deal with your feeling when starting a new job or role:

Get a note book.  There will be a lot to take on board – new processes, how to do things, where things can be found so write it all down: general instructions, system login information, passcodes, or a to-do-list… even the names of key colleagues or contacts. So, it’s always best to have a notepad and a pen to hand to write all this stuff down as and when you hear it. You’ll be bombarded with a lot of information on your first day alone, and it’ll be an impossible to fit it all in your head in amongst the excitement and nerves.

When you have ten minutes – review your notes and write down any supplementary questions you may have or things for clarification – these can be quickly answered by consulting with co-workers or by asking your line manager.  Taking notes presents a professional and organised approach to your work.

And be sure to ask where any processes or rules are documented and be sure to follow up by reading though them.  Again note down any questions or issues for clarification.

Accept that you won’t know everything – but will not be expected to do so.  All you need to do for now is keep up a good level of confidence, avoid coming across arrogant, and most importantly, display a real willingness to learn.

Your boss expects you to be unsure of things at this stage, so don’t be afraid to ask questions – and try not to panic too much if you make a mistake. Errors are all part of the learning process, and your employer will generally be understanding of any mistakes you might make early on. Just make sure you take accountability for your actions. You’re far better off admitting to anything that goes wrong, and trying to find a resolution than trying to hide it. It could be easier to fix than you think, and trying to brush it under the rug isn’t very tactful – or professional.

Accept that you are the newbie. Try not to say anything that you would not want repeated.  You have to accept that for a while people will talk about you – but this will pass once everyone gets to know you better.  Try to be on you best behaviour and don’t me mean spirited about others.

Avoid office politics.  If someone explains some kind of ongoing arguments or warns you of some problem then you can just say “thanks or the heads-up” without giving an opinion.  If you are put on the spot you can say “I haven’t really thought about it yet”.  If you do see something that is worrying then ask to talk to you manager about it.  Your priority is to settle in… not to join a battle.

Rather than worry – just focus on the job.  Go over the job description for your new role, and remind yourself of your responsibilities. That way you’ll be able to go in with a real sense of purpose, not to mention know what to expect as the weeks progress.

Think about what made you want the job, and what helped you land it in the first place. Remember that the employer obviously has faith in your abilities and believes you’ll be a great fit for the role – so you should believe it too.

Don’t be too big for your boots.  Try not to make promises you might not be able to keep in an attempt to impress; or to criticise or to point out things that you think may need to change.  Right now, you need help to learn the rope from your co-workers.

Control Your anxiety.  If you are feel anxious then try some slow deep breathing on your way to work, take frequent bathroom breaks as appropriate, and make sure your breathing is slow and steady, not the most important [step to overcoming anxiety], but it’s the first thing you do.”

Some anxiety is not only normal, but helpful as it keeps us focused and it keeps us engaged. Tell yourself that some of your anxiety is being driven because you care about what you’re doing.

Within one to two weeks of beginning your new job or starting in your new workplace anxiety should subside. However, if it doesn’t, it may be time to consult your doctor about the possibility you have an anxiety disorder. Try the meditations in the Rezl toolbox.

Take time to make friends.   Ask your colleagues about themselves and their situations.  If necessary, note down the names of their kids and their ages.  Find and share things that you have in common – places, music, sports, films, pets even family given names – anything.  Research shows that people feel better deposed to others with whom they have things in common.  Even small things! And Get to know the people around you. Find someone to go to lunch with. Accept invitations to socialise.

Starting a new role or a new job is a challenging time. Remember, everyone was new once.  It’s not a race – take you time and you will settle in just fine.

Take care.