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Lisa Earle McLeod: Making decisions under stress

Critical decisions are the ones that shape your future – about matters that affect your career, your relationships and your reputation.

We often agonize over noncritical decisions. Deciding what kind of car to buy is probably not going to have a big impact on your career. Deciding how to cut your hair isn’t going to affect your most important relationships. We think long and hard about material decisions.

Yet when it comes to behavioral decisions, which are actually more critical, people often just react. For example, imagine that your employee makes a significant error. Your response in the moment will set the tone for your future relationship. It will affect your employee’s future performance, and it will affect everyone else on your team, because they’ll hear about it. Your reaction will establish for your team that this is how our boss responds to errors.

How you react in high-stakes situations affects your relationships and, over time, your reputation. Yet these decisions are often made under stress, with no planning. In many cases, we often don’t even recognize that it’s a decision; we just react.

We make conscious decisions about our things, but when it comes to our behavior, we’re more likely to respond in the moment.

That’s where the “pre-decision” comes in. The term was coined by our client Kurtis Kammerer, director of sales development for Foundation Supportworks, a network of dealers that provide foundation repair and stabilization products based in Omaha, Neb.

Kammerer uses the technique to help his team make better decisions during times of stress. He opens by describing a situation with his son. He says, “I want my teenage son to start thinking of himself as a man who makes strong, confident decisions, so I asked him: What kind of man are you? How would you describe yourself? He described himself as an honest person, with high character and strong values. I said: OK, great; based on who you are, let’s talk about what kind of decisions you want to make. We can predict what’s going to happen. We know you’re going to have someone offer you drugs. You’re going to be with a young lady whom you’re very excited about. You’re going to be in a situation where people are mistreating someone. We know in advance that all those things are going to happen. Let’s decide now how you want to handle it, and write it down, so you will have already made the decision based on who you are.”

He then draws a parallel for his team and says, “We already know what’s going to happen. You’re going to drive up to a house that looks terrible. You are going to be at the end of the month, and you’re not making your number. How are you going to respond?”

Kammerer tells trainees, “There are going to be times when you don’t like your company. It’s all great now; you just joined. Every day is not going to be like this; there are going to be times when you’re angry at your boss. Based on who you are, how are you going to react? Let’s decide now. Write it down.”

We all need help and guidance in our decision-making, no matter what our age.

The pre-decision, as Kammerer calls it, gives you a tool for making decisions as your best self, so when the worst day comes, you’ve already decided how to react.