7 Ways To Make Better Decisions At Work

Most of us have been cautioned against making emotional decisions. At the same time, we have all heard the adage “go with your gut” or been told that the best decisions are emotional, not logical. If you are wondering how to make good decisions at work, you may be confused by this seemingly contradictory advice. So which is true?

My executive coaching experience has taught me that the truth is somewhere in between. In psychology, we call this “wise mind”. Letting yourself be swept away by strong emotions will almost certainly lead to bad decisions. At the same time, it cannot be denied that we are all emotional beings; pretending we aren’t would be a fool’s errand.

So, how can you use your emotions to your advantage without getting swept away by them? In this post, I offer seven tips that I often share with clients who want to work on their decision-making skills. When faced with decisions that are hard to make, these techniques can take some of the stress and uncertainty out of the process.

Consider what would cause the least regret

Deciding between two similar options can feel impossible when you’re trying to imagine which will make you happiest or help you achieve a professional goal. Most of us get stuck because we’re just not sure what we want to do. If this sounds familiar, you can get around it by imagining alternate futures and choosing whichever option you think you would regret the least.

For example, you might be trying to decide whether to have your annual retreat at an inexpensive Las Vegas hotel or a five-star resort in Florida. If you end up going to Vegas, do you think the noise and chaos might make you regret not going somewhere a bit nicer? On the other hand, the resort would create the perfect ambiance for your event, but would you regret the extra expense even more?

Follow the green

No, I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about paying attention to things that make you green with envy. Many people assume jealousy is a destructive emotion, so they try to bury it away. Envy can indeed sabotage personal relationships (that’s a topic for another blog post). However, jealousy can sometimes provide useful insights when you have to make a hard decision.

Are you jealous that your colleague was chosen for a promotion? By asking yourself you are envious of—be it their new salary, the prestige, or that gorgeous corner office—you can learn a lot about yourself. You will gain useful insight into what you want, which can lead to goal-oriented decisions or self-improvement.

Understand how different emotional states affect decision-making

When making difficult decisions, you should pay attention to how you’re feeling and ask yourself what effect that might have. Are you planning next month’s sales strategy while you’re still upset about last month’s results? Your anger might discourage you from listening to your team’s ideas or predispose you to take unnecessary risks. Are you feeling vulnerable because you got a negative performance review last week? If you need to decide on something, you may find yourself choosing options that feel safe—even if they don’t help you accomplish your goals.

Even pleasant emotions such as excitement can lead to decision-making bias by causing you to overlook the negative aspects of potential choices. When you’re in a good mood, you’re more likely to remember that your job interviewee was well-dressed and less likely to remember that they have limited experience. You may also be overly optimistic in estimating how quickly they can be brought up to speed.

Don’t let irrelevant emotions cloud your judgment

If you feel excited, apprehensive, or uncertain while making a decision, those feelings may be relevant to the decision at hand. Perhaps you are excited at the idea of making partner at your firm or uncertain about the long hours. In either case, those emotions may be telling you something useful about the viability of your options.

On the other hand, many people have a habit of bringing emotions into the decision-making process that aren’t relevant. Was your client’s offhand comment just now the real cause of your current anger? Or are you still mad about the traffic jam you got stuck in this morning? Your anger at the traffic jam is only temporary, but if you terminate your client’s contract, there may be no going back. Bottom line: never make a permanent decision when you’re experiencing impermanent emotions.

Use grounding techniques to regulate strong emotions

Your emotions may escalate out of control if you ruminate about the past or worry about the future. To help ground yourself in the here and now—and avoid distressing thought loops—you can try a technique called grounding.

The next time you’re feeling anxious about a decision, you might make a mental inventory of your environment and describe it in your mind. You could try physically ground yourself by tuning in to the feeling of your feet against the floor. You could also try soothing yourself by imagining a relaxing scenario, such as sitting in a warm bath. There are many more examples; read this post for a complete list of grounding therapy techniques.

Ask yourself: “Am I clinging to something?”

Anxiety is often the result of our attempt to control the world around us. When we get pushed outside of our comfort zone, we tend to cling to what’s familiar, even when it doesn’t make sense. For example, you might get anxious about the idea of your employees working from home if your team has never worked remotely before.

The first step to dealing with a situation like this would be to ask yourself what you’re clinging to. In this case, it might be the idea that employees must work from the main office. Next, ask yourself if what you’re clinging to is truly important or just comfortable. Does your team really need to be at their desks, or could they work remotely? Next, revisit your ultimate goal. If your concern is timely communication, consider holding weekly Zoom meetings and setting up a Slack channel.

Don’t bury emotions; Listen to them

Trying to ignore emotions always leads to trouble. If you don’t acknowledge it when you’re feeling sad or mad or jealous, those emotions can unwittingly sabotage your decisions. By permitting yourself to feel your feelings, you can create an opportunity to interpret them and evaluate their usefulness.

Of course, you won’t always be able to interpret your feelings or put them into words. You might just have a hunch. For example, you might feel a sense of dread when considering taking a promotion at a new company. Assuming that dread isn’t related to something else in your life, it may be trying to tell you something about that new job opportunity. Do yourself a favor at times like this: trust your instinct and go with your gut.

Are you still feeling unsure? Consider taking advantage of my executive coaching service. I can teach you how to make better decisions at work by exploring, interpreting, and managing your emotions. The techniques I employ can also help you succeed in other areas such as anxiety reduction, relationship management, and task prioritization. Visit our contact page to send Dr. Lee a message or to set up a free, 20-minute phone consultation with Dr. Lee.