Decision making in a fearful, uncertain world

I have been strongly reminded today of the power of fear over our reactions and how this impacts on the pressure to make decisions.

The level of uncertainty, turmoil and major change that we are all facing during this crisis is huge and continuous. We have fears for our work and money, fears for our health, fears for our family and fears about the impact of all of this on the worlds we know and love.

Fear is powerful. It kicks off our fight / flight / freeze mechanisms, making us feel like shouting at the world, pretending nothing is wrong or hiding under the duvet.

If you are having to take management decisions right now, there is pressure to find the ‘right’ answer; people are seeking reassurance, divine intervention, control, definites. The danger is that those who do offer control and definite solutions may not actually be divine and therefore all-knowing (who knew?).

As Adam Grant points out in his book Rebel Ideas, in a crisis we seek a dominant leader, but the irony is that this very dominance can actively supress knowledge, ideas or concerns that would be useful in their decision making process.

So what can we do instead?

When we are making decisions during such uncertain times or during a crisis, it can be helpful to consider that these are working hypotheses based on known assumptions x, y and z, rather than divine utterances or ‘the’ answer.

So here’s a small working example. I decide today to focus on my work rather than constantly overseeing homeschool on the following three assumptions:

  1. My overseeing homeschooling will cause increased rebellious behaviours from the teenager,
  2. Home harmony is more important than them doing really good work, and
  3. I’ll feel better if I have done my work; I’ll feel more able to show up as a mum not as a manager.

I could be proven wrong on any one of these assumptions, but by making them explicit I invite them to be questioned. I’ll test that decision today but it us up to being improved continuously. And open to changes as those assumptions are tested by a new change (eg whilst writing this I’ve found out that there is an exam tomorrow… some overseeing of revision might be useful).

If I said that this was ‘the’ answer, that will be true tomorrow, next week and next month, I am likely to either have to defend my position as the world changes or admit I was wrong. Which is hard for me 🤔😀

So, every day, every decision, be explicit about the assumptions you are making. Let others test these assumptions, because that gives you better information from which to make a better decision. And the decisions you make are hypotheses, not the ‘final and divine’ answer. I assume things will change again next week, or even tomorrow. I’ll revisit that decision once I’ve tested whether it works.

You don’t have to be divine. You don’t have to have all the answers. Nobody can right now. I recommend you find your best guess and start there then invite feedback on your assumptions.

Above all though, right now please be kind to yourself and to others, and do feel free to comment on my assumptions above. You may well feel differently and help me improve my decision!

Stay safe, Lucy

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