7 Easy Ways to Make Tough Decisions

by Andrew Katz

Boss making tough decision

Imagine this scenario: Your company’s head honcho is in the conference room down the hall for the big meeting on how well you’re steering his investment. But with minutes to go, your “numbers guy” says you’re still in the red despite a great second quarter. What do you do?

Bosses across all industries face curveballs like this one every day—and a new study in PLoS ONE suggests that they’re better poised to make tough decisions than their subordinates. German researchers administered hundreds of rapid-fire word pairs to 35 workers and asked them to pick the more appealing one as they collected fMRI data and tracked their decision-making process. It turns out managers and non-managers show dissimilar brain activity when making decisions, but it’s the managers who choose faster.

The struggle between deciding what’s right and what’s right now can be exhausting, so we compiled seven scenarios on how to be the boss at, well … being the boss. Sort through your work problems and deliver the best possible decision in a high-pressure situation with our ultimate boss checklist.

1. Be in a Good Mood You were speeding during your commute, then wound up late with a traffic ticket and unable to beat the guy who’s after your gig. But don’t fret—if you do, it might kill your job security. Starting out the work day pissed is dangerous because your mood influences the decisions you make, says Don Moore, Ph.D, an associate management professor at the University of California, Berkeley and coauthor of Judgment in Managerial Decision Making. “If it’s a question of ‘should we take the risk?’ you’re more likely to say ‘yes’ if you’re in an angry mood,” he says. So cheer up—it’s just a citation.

2. Avoid Distractions If your days fill up fast but you know there’s a big decision looming, set aside enough time to thoroughly mull it over. Better yet, designate 30 to 45 minutes for deliberations first thing in the morning before your day gets away from you, suggests Mike Staver, author of Leadership Isn’t For Cowards and founder of The Staver Group, a performance-consulting firm for businesses. The key, though, is to avoid interruptions—keep Outlook off—so you’re only focused on the decision at hand.

3. Start Early After a long call with your supervisor in the morning, you learn that some of your best workers may be let go tomorrow … and he’s charged you with trimming them. Tough as it is, don’t procrastinate to avoid the axing, Moore says. “Hurrying through those complex decisions late in the day when you’re trying to get out and you’re feeling stressed is not a good plan.” (Slay stress and build mental muscle with these 27 Ways to Power Up Your Brain.)

4. Call for Help Being a boss has its perks, but constantly making a company’s life and death decisions doesn’t seem like one of them. And when you’re overtaxed but need to make snap choices based on too little information, your intuition can bias you enough to make mistakes and get burnt out. “Decision fatigue leads people to make worse decisions,” Moore says. Your move: ask for help and allocate the most stressful parts to empty your plate. When the time is right, you’ll make a more informed choice.

5. Assess the Aftermath Now that your employees spent hours compiling more than enough information for you to make the call, wade through it all with these questions in mind: What does it mean for the company’s bottom line? Does it empower you or weaken you within the firm? Is it legal, let alone ethical? “It’s when the decisions get divorced from your own values that you’re more likely to do something you regret later,” Moore says. Try the wife test: If you can’t go home and explain to the Mrs. what’s happening at work, speak up and lay out a case that’s more aligned with your values.

6. Make Your Choice After a long day and a quick glance around the office—your intern is dozing off and your papers are scattered around Chinese takeout containers—it’s judgment hour. If you have enough information and feel like you’re ready to make a decision, do it. If not, don’t. “Say ‘If you need a decision from me now, the answer’s no. If we can have more time, I would like to reflect on it and gather more data,” Moore says. There’s nothing wrong with spending a little overtime to get things right.

7. Thank the Supporting Cast A few of your best employees stayed late with you at the office as your decision hit the “Yes, we’re doing this” or “No, we can’t justify it” hour. You couldn’t have done it without them, so how can you recognize their hard work? Skip the email and actually write out a thank-you note to each member of the team that specifically mentions how their contribution helped you out, Staver says. They’re likely to appreciate it more than a few slices of pizza or special parking space. (Searching for more ways to be a friendlier boss? Learn 3 Secrets Every Manager Must Know.)

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