In our last instalment we discussed the effect of stress on decision making abilities (link here). We have also previously written about the positive effects of resilience when it comes to reducing stress and making good decisions (link here). This week we talk about some other important factors to consider to improve decision-making.
Breaks. Decision fatigue is the phenomenon whereby the more decisions you make the harder it is to make more and the more likely you are to just give up . In a now famous study researchers compared how often judges granted parole before and after lunch. They found that judges were more likely to grant parole after lunch and other breaks than at other times of the day . We don’t know whether granting parole was the right or wrong decision but it is concerning that something as important as that was affected by something as simple as taking a break. Decision fatigue results in depletions to self-control whereby people are more likely to give up on a task early. If an important decision has to be made make sure you and your team take breaks so that fatigue doesn’t drive the outcome.
Understanding your body. Soldiers and naval officers face some of the most stressful work conditions out there. If they don’t make the right decision in a high pressure situation their own or someone else’s life could be on the line. A lot of research therefore has gone into finding out how to reduce mistakes in decision making. One intervention found that giving personnel information about the challenges they would face and, importantly, about how their body would react in a stressful situation allowed them to make more accurate decisions . Understanding how your body responds to stress and understanding how you can settle yourself or counteract it are important tools in making sure emotional stress doesn’t dictate the decisions you make.
Being mindful. We’ve all heard that mindfulness can help us refocus, destress and be more positive but did you know it can help decision-making as well? Researchers found that people who practised mindfulness-based stress reduction were more likely to make ethical decisions when faced with problems than those who were not . In addition, another set of researchers found that individuals who think more mindfully are less likely to cheat when presented with an opportunity to do so .
Stress isn’t always bad, in fact it can sometimes help sharpen your mental functions when faced with a difficult decision. However recognising that when stress is overwhelming it can negatively affect the decisions you and your employees make, and knowing how to counteract that, is a useful weapon to make sure bad decision-making doesn’t have lasting effects on your workplace.
- Vohs, K. D., Baumeister, R. F., Schmeichel, B. J., Twenge, J. M., Nelson, N. M., & Tice, D. M. (2014). Making choices impairs subsequent self-control: a limited-resource account of decision making, self-regulation, and active initiative.
- Danziger, S., Levav, J., & Avnaim-Pesso, L. (2011). Extraneous factors in judicial decisions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(17), 6889-6892.
- Inzana, C. M., Driskell, J. E., Salas, E., & Johnston, J. H. (1996). Effects of preparatory information on enhancing performance under stress. Journal of Applied Psychology, 81(4), 429.
- Shapiro, S. L., Jazaieri, H., & Goldin, P. R. (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision making. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(6), 504-515.
- Ruedy, N. E., & Schweitzer, M. E. (2010). In the moment: The effect of mindfulness on ethical decision making. Journal of Business Ethics, 95(1), 73-87.