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Sound Judgment and Decision Making: A Universal and Learnable Skill

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Sound judgment and decision making is a skill reserved for leaders - false. 
Sound judgment and decision making is a purely logical activity - false. 

The ability to pass sound judgments and make good decisions is a universal skill that will benefit you regardless of your role, department, or industry. Whether you are an emergency room doctor or a social media intern, your ability to collect information, determine its relevance, come to a conclusion, and make a decision on the course of action, impacts many others, not just yourself. Therefore, honing your skills in this area is critical to your success.

Factors Impacting Your Judgment and Decision-Making Abilities

Whether we are aware of it or not, there are many factors that can either compromise or elevate our ability to make a judgment or decision. These things include: 

Emotion: Unfortunately emotions often get a bad reputation in business, especially when it comes to decision making. In reality, our emotions can tell us a great deal about a situation or decision. While it may not be right to make a decision solely off a feeling or emotion, it is valid for it to come into your consideration set. 

Experience:The more time and exposure you have to different situations, people, and approaches, the more grounded you will become in your own ability to pass judgments or make decisions. Experience is a great teacher of judgment and decision making, but it is surely not the only one. 

Preference: I like to work on a Mac over a PC. This is my personal preference. While I have a number of reasons why some of our preferences cannot be easily explained or rationalized. They just are. They are a part of who we are and will inevitably impact our judgments and decisions, though it is up to us to what degree they do. 

Environment: Your environment can include both your physical and mental location. Imagine an emergency situation, a true emergency, and all around you is chaos. Some people naturally have or have honed the ability to minimize the chaos around them, but others may need to step out or away from that situation to think straight and make a decision. Your environment plays a critical role in your ability to make good judgments.  

Learn what skills you need to excel as a leader in the guide to people  management.

What you Can Do To Improve Your Judgment and Decision-Making

While there are clearly external and internal factors at play in any situation, whether it be an emergency or every day, there are actions you can take in the moment to ensure the judgments and decisions you make are sound. These actions include:

 

Crowdsource Information

While the final decision may lay squarely on your shoulders, and your shoulders alone, that doesn’t mean you are an island. More often than not in business, the decisions you make will impact those around you. Those it will impact may very well have ideas, questions, or concerns that would not otherwise enter your consideration. By tapping into those around you, from those impacted, to your leader, to trusted friends and colleagues, you can crowdsource information and then decide how it fits into your decision-making process.

 

Communicate

When we are stressed or feel burdened with a decision, it can be easy to withdraw and isolate ourselves. In isolation we can lose sight of our blindspots and pass judgments or make decisions without the full picture. Therefore, communicate with those around you. Ideally, someone you can have an honest two-way dialogue with and whose judgment you trust and even admire. This may be a one to one coach or mentor, a leader (does not have to be your own), or an individual contributor.

 

Practice Mindfulness

While communicating with others is one piece of the puzzle, taking stock of your own knowledge, feelings, and gaps is another. That’s where mindfulness comes in. As the Mayo Clinic explains, “mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.” So, while you attempt to come to a judgment or make a decision, take the time you need to listen to yourself. By slowing down and practicing mindfulness, you may find you already have the answer you have been scrambling around trying to find.

 

Challenge Yourself with Training and Development Opportunities

Beyond what you can do in the moment, enrolling in training programs or searching out development opportunities, such as one to one coaching or shadowing someone in a different role or department, gaining knowledge leads to better judgment and decision making. These are opportunities to practice the skills you have, learn new ones, and be exposed to other ways of thinking about a given situation. By investing in your professional development in this area before a situation even arises will go a long way when one actually does.

 

Conclusion: Judgment and Decision-Making Are Rarely Purely Logical

In a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on judgment and decision-making under stress, researchers noted that:

“There is an assumption that the best decisions are rational-based on logic and factual information. Researchers have tended to look at reason and emotion separately. A value has been placed on decisions made with reason: "it is careless but common to suggest that when we make bad decisions, they are based on emotion, but when we arrive at good decisions, they are based solely on reason" (Lazarus and Lazarus, 1994). Hammond posited that different situations demand different forms of cognitive activity, some calling for increased analytical cognition, and others calling for increased reliance on intuition.” 

This highlights that you will not always be able to pass a judgment or make a decision without emotion, experience, preference, or environment impacting your abilities, for worse or for better. Though what you can do is take actions such as communicating, practicing mindfulness, and developing your skills with training programs, to ensure that when you are faced with a decision to make, you can do so with the greatest possible confidence.

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