Stressed decision-making is a crime - Team Business
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Stressed decision-making is a crime

Stressed decision-making is a crime

Do you ever commit this type of CRIME?

Why is stressed decision-making a crime? To put it succinctly, when we are stressed we are emotionally charged. That means that our higher faculties are overwhelmed by the brain’s instinctive survival mechanism. Under these circumstances our every impulse is to act instantly, dynamically and unthinkingly. As a direct result of this emotional hijacking, we manifest defective thinking patterns. And the crime is that these negative patterns are pretty ruinous if we are trying to make a decision.

When making almost any significant decision, we need to make a rational, well thought through, and balanced appreciation of a problem. At these times it is important to we collect data, listen to advice and make a careful evaluation of alternative solutions. However if we are stressed instead of cool rational thought we blunder through a five step sequence of C-R-I-M-E.

  1.     Crass oversimplification of the problem
  2.     Rapid broad-brush solution – one grand idea
  3.     Inability to listen or consult, we are 100% right
  4.     Mad rush to act – “Do it now” syndrome
  5.     Euphoric delusion


Step 1. Crass oversimplification of the problem

When emotionally aroused we tend to jump to a drastic oversimplification of the problems at hand. Things appear very dramatic, black or white and extreme. There is little room for subtleties and we tend to ‘catastrophise’. As an example we think that missing our train is suddenly ‘the end of the world’.

Step 2. Rapid broad-brush solution – one grand idea

We tend to come up with just one grand simplistic idea to solve things. It can seem at the time vividly brilliant. But crucially there is always a vagueness ascribed to this potential solution. We overlook or lose sight of the detailed picture. Complexities and subtleties are avoided. Unfortunately, we tend to overlook second or third alternatives or instantly discount them. Steps one and two mean that when stressed we can easily try and tackle the wrong problem with the wrong solution.

Step 3. Inability to listen or consult, we are 100% right

Perhaps most disastrously we have an unshakeable belief in the absolute correctness of our solution.

When you think about it, there is a reason for this over confidence. And that is that taking immediate dynamic action is the priority in a life-threatening event. So, nature designs stressed thinking in such a way to give us an overriding confidence in our own sense of direction. The upshot is that when stressed there is a strong emotional tendency to believe we are right and everyone else is either wrong or, at least, their views become irrelevant to us. Unfortunately this overconfidence is less than useful when the requirement is to make a rational assessment of the situation. It is particularly useless at enabling us to listen to other points of view. We simply do not have the patience to glean the precise facts upon which to base a decision.

Step 4. Mad rush to act – “Do it now” syndrome

Compounding the last catastrophic feature, we feel compelled to make immediate decisions or take immediate action. This is the classic knee-jerk reaction to events. Stress impels us towards making a ‘quick fix’ solution.

Step 5. Euphoric delusion

After the quick fix comes the euphoric feeling of success. Unfortunately this high is entirely delusional. This emotion is simply a biochemical event and is nature’s way of rewarding the decision-maker for arriving at a quick decision. The reward is for surviving the stressful episode. The elation in no way reflects the poor quality of the decision just made.

There are variations to emotionally-charged thinking.

Sometimes, instead of speed, stress provokes the impulse of procrastination and even paralysis, like the rabbit petrified into inaction when caught in the headlights. Otherwise stress can provoke denial of its very existence. This is the classic head in the sand response.

Whatever the reaction, a stressed response to the sort of problems we are confronted with at work is almost universally useless.

Most of us are hopefully not experiencing extreme states of panic, however, many people do get weighed down with low-grade stress and anxiety. Even this low state of anxiety can provoke sufficient emotional arousal to trigger the five steps of stressed thinking.

Contact Jeremy Old for an informal chat on 0845 0945 819 or email

Read more about our stress management counseling services

Jeremy is also author of ‘Reinventing  Management Thinking; using science  to liberate the human spirit’.

In this groundbreaking book, the author explains the psychological reasons why collaborative management methods such as Hoshin Kanri are so much more successful than conventional top down command and control.


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