In times of crisis: 5 strategies that lead to better decisions
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
This article first appeared in TalentCulture.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our work, how we relate with our families, and our personal sense of safety, security, and health. This crisis, coupled with recent burgeoning social unrest, presents unique challenges to leaders. How can we make better decisions—ones that could make or break our business — when we’re consumed by what’s around us?
One answer comes from leaders in the profession that’s at the very center of the COVID crisis: expert medical practitioners, who frequently make life-or-death decisions for the people in front of them.
How do they stay focused and keep their decision-making sharp?
The answer lies in metacognition
Dr. Jerome Groopman, chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Recanati chair of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and his wife, Dr. Pamela Hartzband, an attending physician in the Division of Endocrinology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, shared how they do it.
“Pam developed a simple procedure when she was an intern in medical school many years back,” Groopman told us. “To her, it was like a game she played to stay sharp. She asked herself, ‘What if that other doctor who made the diagnosis is wrong? What else could it possibly be? What am I basing my decisions on?’”
By asking these questions, Hartzband took herself off automatic pilot and became aware of her own thinking—a process known as metacognition.
Together, Groopman and Hartzband introduced courses at Harvard Medical School to teach medical school students and practicing physicians these metacognitive “thinking rules,” which foster self-awareness, reveal bias, and increase the accuracy of diagnoses.
The good news? This approach can be used outside of the medical field, and it’s especially potent in the times we’re facing now.
How metacognition works in times of crisis
Metacognition will help you keep better track of — and help reduce — errors in your thinking and help you be more emotionally balanced and stable. When you metacognate, you act as your own consultant or trainer, giving helpful feedback to better yourself.
Metacognition steers you onto more realistic, thoughtful paths — facilitating critical thinking and putting you more in control. If you observe an emotion or thought that isn’t helpful, flag it and alter it. If you observe yourself rushing to judgment, slow your thinking process down. Keep a critical eye on the quality of your thinking. By monitoring yourself more frequently, you’ll keep from veering off into irrational thinking, even when the world around us is upside down.
To practice metacognition and think about your own thinking, start with these five strategies:
1. Name your mental steps. How did you arrive at your decision? If you can’t name the steps that led to a decision, be suspicious of that decision. Are your information sources reliable?
Always question your decisions and how you make them. Ask yourself: “Did I miss something? What if I’ve been making decisions based on an erroneous starting point or piece of bad information? Are there other ways to approach making this decision? Am I questioning deeply enough?”
2. Recognize and learn from past mistakes and misjudgments. Don’t bury prior mistakes. Instead, incorporate these memories into your current thinking to improve your decision-making.
3. Stay open and self-aware. Be open to learning from everyone. Be an active listener. Try to value many opinions. Ask yourself:
- What is my thinking style?
- What is my personality?
- What are my biases?
- Do I hesitate to ask questions because I want to be seen as competent?
- How might my ways of thinking and personality influence how I make assessments and reach conclusions?
4. Don’t rush. Experienced decision-makers in high-stress environments all emphasize the importance of slowing down. Taking your time — even when others or circumstances are rushing you — is essential to making accurate decisions.
5. Don’t get seduced by shortcuts or favor efficiency over accuracy. Know when you’re placing too much confidence in preset protocols, computer algorithms, or attractive charts that crisply lay out solutions. Are you accepting someone else’s “frame” of the problem? Are you relying on others to do your deciding for you by accepting their conclusion too readily?
The bottom line: The multiple crises and uncertainty we’re facing thwarts our efforts to make sound decisions. The next time you sense something happening around you — or within you — that feels rushed, reactive, or not right, don’t ignore it and reflexively press on.
Instead, exercise the discipline to stop. Pay attention to that signal. If the path you’re on doesn’t seem right, pause, reflect, and get off. Put yourself onto a better path or create a new one. Others will end up following your lead.
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