Decision making in stressful situations

Rohan Brown

Our team recently had the pleasure of hearing a talk from a good friend of mine on decision making in stressful situations. We all think we know about stressful situations, but these were real-world experiences from over twenty years serving as an officer with our Australian and allied defence forces which included a number of modern-day theatres of war.

The talk was indeed an eye opener for our team, giving a face to the realities and real-life dangers that our defence services people face in their working lives, particularly in overseas hot-spots such as Afghanistan. It is not so much the stories shared with us which illustrated the need for clear decision-making processes, but the key takeaways from this which I would like to share.

Three main takeaways:

  1. Avoid going down the rabbit hole
    • Look at the whole picture not just the one facet of what it causing you issues – do a threat/risk assessment.
    • Maintain focus on the larger picture. That is after all why we are doing something.

Examples of this are cutting corners or making assumptions based on a quick overview of a situation. Just because you have seen what on face-value is the same situation or experiences as before, don’t be tempted to jump to conclusions. Always treat the situation as if it is the first time you have come across it and go back to basics and work through the situation again just in case something is different.

  1. Emphasise the positive and focus on what you can control
    • Don’t waste time and effort on things you cannot control – you can still mitigate them.
    • Take action on what you can control and accept the things you can’t change. Doing this immediately eases negative thoughts and influences.

Human nature lends us to dwell on those things out of our control, and they are often the issues that stress us and can consume our energy. As a work colleague has told me before, you are just punching a sheep, stressing over something will just wear you out and it will not get you anywhere.

  1. Know the next step
    • We all follow procedures. Knowing what the next step is, even if a baby-step stops you going down the rabbit hole.
    • The next step may be “asking for help”.
    • Focus on the process not the outcome. Follow the next step in the process, then next step etc then all of a sudden you have your desired outcome.

A good point in the above is that even if you don’t know the next step, be aware of it and stop and ask someone. We refer to them as the ‘hooks’, which make you stop and ask, or question what you are doing.

If your business does not have processes documented, start with getting these processes written down as best you can and include the background as to the need for the process, which then puts the process in context. That way everyone knows the process and why they need to do it.

A few other messages that I personally took from the talk included:

  • The need to allow your team the opportunity to chat with other team members.

Examples of this may be simply to stop and have a coffee break together. This could be expanded to having team building exercises or encouraging after hours social gatherings. From a business owner’s point of view this may also include closing the business and all doing something together that is not work-related.

  • Find someone you can catch up with and talk when you need to.

This could be a mentor or simply someone you are comfortable to talk openly with. This is particularly important in times of personal stress. It can help also if that person is able to empathise with you and what you are currently going through.

  • Identify and understand those you are working with.

Know what their strengths and weaknesses are and also how they may handle certain situations. This helps you prevent putting them in situations that may limit their effectiveness. It also helps you to know how to get the best out of your team. DiSC profiling with team members is often used to help you and the team understand each other’s character traits.

Everyone has a story to tell and there is always something that can be learnt from them. In our case it was a case of what might an accountant learn from someone working in a war zone? But you just need to take the lessons from what they do and relate them to the challenges in your own work situation.

On behalf of the team at Green Taylor Partners we would like to thank David and his family for their time in sharing his experiences with us.