Joe Fedison - Making Better Decisions

As a business leader you need to be good at making decisions. When it comes to strategy and long term planning you have time to do research, call meetings, weigh out the options, and make an informed decision. There are also decisions that demand immediate attention: elevated employee conflict, unforeseen storm damage, shoplifting, equipment failure, critical financial errors, and irate customers, to name a few. What do you do?

Simple, you make the best decision you can at THAT time. But have you ever made a decision under stress and then regretted it later? That may have happened because you were physically unable to think clearly at THAT moment. The culprit is a part of your brain called the amygdala. Although it’s main function is to keep you safe from danger, if it perceives anything as a threat it will inhibit the rational thinking area of your brain, known as the prefrontal cortex.

Your reasoning, planning, execution, and problem solving are all cognitive processes managed by the prefrontal cortex. It’s the Executive Center of the brain. Being able to make an optimal decision is difficult when this area is not fully functional.

NOTE: The amygdala has an itchy trigger finger and it doesn’t need your conscious approval to go into action. Just one negative comment at a meeting is all it takes.

The good news is that the system works both ways. The amygdala can inhibit the prefrontal cortex, leading to an emotional response, and the prefrontal cortex can signal the amygdala to calm down, allowing you to start thinking rationally. The strategy is to short circuit the amygdala and move your focus back to the prefrontal cortex so it can re-engage.

Key Strategy Points:
  • Our brain doesn’t like to make mistakes (or at least admit it).
  • It’s not easy for our brain to resist answering a question. Even under stress, the right question will get a response.
  • Certain questions have to be answered by the prefrontal cortex, forcing it to re-engage.


Copy this section, print it out and keep it in your pocket.

  1. Will I regret this decision later?
  2. What is the best choice for me at THIS time?

The next time there is an “incident” that needs a decision take 1 minute, read the questions above and follow these rules:

  1. Ask only 1 question at a time.
  2. Pause and give your brain a chance to answer.
  3. Write down the answers when possible.

One of the key predictors of success is being able to control your emotions. Now you know why. What would be the value to your company if you were able to consistently make better decisions when stressful events happen?

“What happens is not as important as to how you react to what happens.” Ellen Glasgow

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