Decisions, decisions. You make them all day long, big and small. It’s hard enough to make the right call when you have the time, support, and resources you need, which rarely happens. Much more common are traps that get us caught into making bad decisions–conditions we get ourselves into or behaviors we choose to engage in.
West Point assistant professor of leadership and psychology, Mike Erwin, recently shared in Harvard Business Review his research findings on the mindset traps we can get caught in when making decisions.
High IQ and EQ people are instinctively on alert for these traps and are wise enough to avoid them. You can too, by doing these six things.
1. Make high-priority decisions at high-energy times.
This avoids the trap of decision fatigue, which is when you’re mentally worn down from a long day of making decisions, and just make the call with far less thought.
Erwin cites a famous example of decision fatigue, a 2011 Princeton University study that showed prisoners were more likely to have parole successfully granted if their parole meeting was in the morning versus the afternoon.
I’ve certainly experienced this fatigue and so started a habit of scheduling major meetings with big decisions to happen in the morning, when I’m at my sharpest.
2. Excel at getting input from everyone.
Decisions just aren’t as good when all stakeholders and qualified minds can’t input on them. Erwin makes anecdotal mention of a Northwestern University study that showed in the average meeting, 70 percent of the talking is done by three people (which matches my experience).
High IQ and EQ leaders are able to give everyone, especially introverts, a chance to give their input into a decision by consciously keeping the “overbearing three” in check and by proactively seeking the input of everyone around the table. They also send out a meeting agenda 24 hours in advance detailing the decision to be made so people who process more slowly or like to think longer will be ready and comfortable inputting their point of view.
3. Resist multi-tasking.
For certain, easier said than done. But a necessity to avoid making distracted decisions. In his book, The Organized Mind, neuroscientist Daniel Levitan says that we lose 40 percent of our effectiveness (including decision making) when we multi-task.
In my book Find the Fire I shared a powerful trick; I write down simple reminders to stay present in the moment (usually at the top of a meeting agenda) like “Don’t zone out, zone in,” or “Run your mind, don’t let it run you,” and my favorite, “What has my attention right now?”
4. Avoid analysis paralysis.
The managers I’ve experienced that were the worst at making decisions (made poor ones or took way too long to make one at all) hid behind reams of data, leveraging it almost as a security blanket. Or more like an insecurity blanket because that’s what they were really covering up; a lack of confidence or a debilitating habit of perfectionism.
On the other hand, the best decision-makers I’ve worked with used the 60/40 rule: 60 percent gut, 40 percent data to make a decision. They’d temper their gut with input from those who complemented their strengths and who filled in their knowledge gaps. And they’d foster a decision-making culture of debate-decide-commit. So can you.
5. Never evaluate while emotional.
Think back to the last really good decision you made when you were royally pissed off.
The highest EQ leaders never let their emotions get the better of them, and certainly not while in the midst of making an important decision. It starts by being aware of your emotions and not letting them hijack the decision-making process.
By the way, no one said you can’t go with your heart or a bit of emotion as a tiebreaker for making the call. It’s just important to keep the heart balanced with the head in deciding.
6. Unplug from the information onslaught to clear your mind.
Erwin says that the constant access and flow of information today forces us to “live in a continuous state of distraction and struggle to focus.” He’s right.
This point isn’t even about choosing to multi-task or getting bogged down in analyzing all the information, this is just about trying to focus with the constant flow of email, social feeds, and data reports that cross your desk. Erwin says it’s critical to make time to step back and unplug from it all.
I found that when I had to make the biggest decisions, for the few hours leading up to that apex, I’d squirrel away somewhere to think things through, free of tech and other distractions.
Net: smart people don’t make dumb decisions that often because they use intentionality along with intelligence.