HRD looks at how neuroscience can help leaders make smart choices and avoid default thinking
Having skilled decision-making skills is a critical success factor, according to Michelle Gibbings, founder of Change Meridian and author of the new book, Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work.
Gibbings explained that the pre-frontal cortex in the brain gets tired easily. That’s the part of the brain that’s involved in thinking, analysing and reasoning.
Consequently, the brain takes short cuts to conserve energy.
“A mental short-cut is known as a heuristic. The brain uses heuristics to make big things and complex issues easier to manage, and ultimately remember,” said Gibbings.
“As the brain takes in new information it tries to make sense of it, so that it knows what it needs to do.
“To ease the cognitive load this processing takes, it compresses information and sorts it into patterns. It looks for things that it’s seen or experienced before and goes – ‘I now know what to do’."
Consequently, you can close your mind to new information that may be relevant and fall into the trap of default thinking.
Gibbings praised Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow” for explaining how the automatic and instinctual part of brain can lead to cognitive bias, and that people can place too much confidence in their own judgement.
This leads to traps such as: sunk cost (where due to loss aversion people don’t walk away from something, even when the facts show they should), anchoring (where decisions are influenced by the earliest piece of information received), and others.
So how do you overcome these barriers and help ensure that your decision making has the right level of robustness and you avoid default thinking?
Gibbings offered six tips to help get you started:
Challenge your mindset
Be conscious about the decision you are making and alert to influencing factors and how you are processing information. Letting assumptions drive your thought processes, mindset, and ultimately behaviour will negatively impact your decision making. Instead, be curious and invite different opinions as ‘out of the box’ thinking often comes from unexpected quarters.
Don’t silence the dissenters
People are easily swayed by the opinion of others. Be alert to when a team is ignoring the person who is raising the dissenting idea. It may be this person who helps ensure the group doesn’t fall into the trap of groupthink.
Talk to people at all levels of the organisation. Hierarchy can interfere with the information you receive as it can be filtered and sanitised before it hits your desk by people who are trying to paint a situation in the most favourable light. Talking with people across, and up and down the organisation ensures you know what is happening, and are therefore better able to make a good decision.
Be deliberate about what decision you are making. Identify who needs to be involved and what decision making process you are using. It’s easy to get distracted, so be clear on what you need to do to get the decision made. Multi-tasking and good decision making are not a successful combination, as you lose concentration and productivity as you switch between tasks.
Get some sleep
When your brain is tired it eagerly takes the path of least resistance, and this is where it gets dangerous. Taking the path of least resistance means you will let expectations and assumptions drive how you think and act. If you want to make better, more deliberate decisions you need to be conscious about how and why you are choosing one option over another.
Reflect on it
Not all the decisions you make will good or bad. Take the time to reflect on important decisions. What happened? Did it turn out as you expected? If not, why not? What could you do differently next time?