4 Things Decisive People Do Differently, Part II

In part one of this blog, I covered my first two suggested practices for helping you become a better decision-maker—simulating decisions-making scenarios and not conceding to uncertainties. In part two, I’m covering the last two practices which require a little more advanced social and self awareness. These two practices continue to be some of the most challenging in leadership for me, but I’m prepared to spend a lifetime growing and maturing in them and hope you will too.

PRACTICE 3: Maintain Emotional Mobility

Good decision makers and great leaders have, what I like to call, emotional mobility. Emotional mobility means you are mentally and emotionally nimble enough to shift your approach or perspective anytime you need to in order to maintain a clear line of sight to the end goal.

This means that when conversations are tense and emotions are heightened, your response is never to fire back defensively but to stay positively engaged and emotionally composed. It takes resolve and lots of practice crafting kind, yet effectual, responses that cut the tension and disarm your listener, but it is absolutely necessary if you’re committed to making sound decisions that help everyone successfully reach the end goal.

There are three things I do regularly that give me the best shot at making level-headed decisions in emotionally charged situations. Number one, if communication is happening over a written medium like email, I will always give myself adequate time to cool off and think. As a rule, I never respond when my emotions are heightened.

Secondly, when I’m in live situations and there is tension in the conversation, I will sometimes count down from 5 in my head before responding. Occupying your brain with a rational, cognitive exercise will take your mind right out of that heightened state and allow your emotions to detach from the situation so you can reenter the conversation with objectivity and civility.

Thirdly, I nod my head and smile while I’m listening. There will come a point when it’s time for me to respond and this small act gives me the upper hand in constructing a positive, well-received response, even if I ultimately disagree with what’s being said.

PRACTICE 4: Listen to Your Gut

Let’s immediately put to rest a misconception about gut decisions—these are not decisions based on emotion; they’re decisions directed by both intuition and preexisting moral values. Emotions are ideas and sentiments you have stored away from previous experiences that affect how you judge situations and people. Intuition, on the other hand, is having keen and quick insight into something that you have no previous knowledge of or reference for. Couple that with a clearly defined set of moral values and your gut decisions could prove to be very fruitful.

Admittedly, the concept of making gut decisions has been the hardest for me to accept as a valid decision-making method because I so highly value rationale. However, I became more amenable to this approach when I began to realize that intuition and moral values are like the checks and balances to rational decision-making.

Years ago, my boss and I were considering someone for a design position that had all the right qualifications. Everything looked good on paper and email communication had gone well, so we decided to fly him in for an in-person interview.

Halfway into the interview, my boss noticed that he wouldn’t look over at me or make eye contact with me at all. This made my boss a little suspicious that he may have had a problem with female authority, so he decided to push a little in that area.

“So, if you were to submit a design to Courtney for review that you had put a lot of work into and she had feedback on some areas that needed to be reworked or tweaked, how would you handle that situation?”

The young man frantically shifted his eyes back and forth as he looked down at the table and only managed to utter a hesitant “uhhh....”

Needless to say, we respectfully closed out the interview process and moved him on.

Rationale suggested that he was a good decision. He checked off all the qualification boxes. However, intuition gave pause and hinted at the points where pressure needed to be applied to dig a little deeper. And the value system ultimately revealed that he wasn’t a good fit for us because we valued leadership, we valued women, and we valued an environment where there was no room for ego.

My boss’ gut instinct (his intuition + strong values) saved the team from what would have ultimately been a very poor hiring decision.

Neurologist and author of The Naked Brain, Richard Restak, sums up gut decisions perfectly when he says, "When you force people to make decisions with only the rational part of their brain, they almost invariably end up “overthinking.” These rational decisions tend to take longer to make...and can often be of lower quality. In contrast, decisions made with the limbic brain, gut decisions, tend to be faster, higher-quality decisions."

This is not to say that decisions should be made solely with the limbic brain and devoid of rationale. It’s simply to say that your “gut" shouldn’t be ignored in the decision-making process. With sharpened intuition and deeply rooted values, you have the potential to make good, longterm decisions that protect your convictions and favor outcomes that carry more lasting impact.

When it comes to these last two practices, you will be picking yourself back up and trying again A LOT. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kicked myself for how I handled something after the emotions have died down or after realizing my gut was trying to lead me in a more prudent direction. It’s just part of the learning process, so remember to give yourself grace.

Keep challenging yourself to stay emotionally nimble in tense situations. The confidence that comes with knowing you can walk into any situation, keep your emotional composure, and maintain the vision that will help lead everyone to success is powerful and what all great leaders should strive for. And don’t ignore your gut. Get crystal clear on the convictions that drive you and trust that your intuition and values are at work on your behalf—helping steer you toward higher quality decisions.