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Making decisions in the current environment can feel impossible. There is so much tension on getting the answer right and getting it fast. With competing factors like a stable economy, good health and sustainable business growth all fighting for prominence in our decisions, reluctance, or paralysis can take over.

There are four things that are causing decision making to be particularly difficult right now.

Availability BiasThis is the impact of your most vivid experiences or memories on decision-making. The stories, memories or experiences that come to mind, things like culture, our past, our positive or negative experiences, the news in the media around us can lead us to having a pre-conceived opinion irrespective of what the truth or what the real data shows. The more “available” a piece of information is to us, the more important it seems. The result is that we give greater weight to information we learned recently, for example a news article you read last night comes to mind easier than a science class you took years ago. Right now, the news we see most prominently is about restrictions, health concerns, economic impacts and global crises.
Loss Aversion BiasLoss aversion is a cognitive bias that describes why, for individuals, the pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. The loss felt from money, or any other valuable object, can feel worse than gaining that same thing. We actually put twice as much energy into hanging onto something we’ve got versus allowing for something new. Individuals and businesses all around us have had their freedoms taken away with all the current restrictions and lockdowns in place. These losses can instinctively lead us to want to hold onto everything we do have and to avoid risk or making changes.
Too many opinionsThis can occur in decision making where we have multiple stakeholders who may have their own agendas, strategic goals, perspectives, data points or phycological backgrounds. Of course, we want to have different perspectives in our decision making! But we can easily procrastinate a decision due to feeling overwhelmed with all the opinions and options available to us, making the path to a successful decision feel cluttered or impossible.
UncertaintyThis is the doubt or the unknown. Elements of our decision that we recognise we do not know or maybe cannot know in advance of making a decision. This is the unpredictable change in our environment or business needs that are more and more prevalent in the business world. Right now, many would say, we are facing more uncertainty than we have in the past.

These are the core four things that make decision making seem hard right now. Now we’ve identified them, here are a few strategies to help provide clarity and cut through all this noise when you need to make a key decision:

Availability Bias

  • Maintain awareness of your own availability bias – notice when you are giving more weight to information that you received recently, especially when that information is incongruent with the longer term data.
  • Create a process that supports challenging this particular bias. For example, you could identify one person in your decision-making team to play the role of keeping an eye out for this bias coming into play, and challenging it with alternate views or data.

Loss Aversion Bias

  • Try framing the decision question to highlight the potential gain rather than the potential loss
  • Look at the worst outcome – often in decision making we refer to this as the ‘do nothing’ option – and compare your other options against it. Remind yourself to keep things in perspective and rationalise the potential downsides against the potential gains

Too many opinions

  • Just because it seems like you have too many opinions coming forward, it is not the time to shut people out! Seek broad input from your team or stakeholders, but frame their input in a way that supports the decision you are trying to make.
  •  Identify where each stakeholder can provide the most value to the decision process, or where they want to contribute, and focus on having their opinion in that realm. Use a structured and facilitated process to engage them in a meaningful way.
  • Document the opinions and do the work to unpack their meaning and value, including getting curious and asking them questions about their input. What are they really saying? You might be surprised to see more alignment than appears at first glance when you get behind the meaning.
  • Seek views on the decision process and what best suits your stakeholders.

Uncertainty

  • Accept and embrace change as a constant, unpredictable feature of your working environment.
  • Meet uncertainty with understanding: Pause to listen and look around, gather up new ways or ideas of thinking
  • Be upfront with your team or stakeholders when planning your decision process that the uncertainty is real and what elements of your decision are the ‘unknowns’. Determine what parts of your decision may need to be altered or re-thought as time goes on.

With these actions in place and Decision Thinking on your mind, you will gain back control of your decision making and break the paralysis in no time!