You Can Never Lose What You Don’t Have – A Guide To Rational Decision Making

Let’s say you are in the middle of discussions for a position in another company that you know is just the right one for you. The position that this company is considering you for is way above your current position.

At this point if you get worried about your ability to perform at a different level in the new company, your whole demeanor could change and you could come across as diffident and lacking confidence during the discussions itself. What are the chances that you will actually get a leadership position in this case? The answer is obvious! Even if you did get it, chances are you would have undersold yourself.

Fear is a strange thing. It can make you concerned about losing something that you don’t even have or what may never happen to you.  Fear of losing something can be a powerful emotion. But logic dictates whatever it is that you are afraid to lose should at-least be in your possession.  How can you worry about something that is not even in your possession or even connected to you?

What happens when you worry about something you don’t even have?

When you worry about what you don’t have, you could make some very poor decisions that could be to your detriment.

Let me give you an example.

You have a job currently where you are doing quite well. You have been in this job for some time and are not looking for another job really. Then out of the blue, a headhunter reaches out to you with an opportunity to move to another company in a much better position.

When the offer is made, you feel that the offer is not up to the mark.  However, you have been out of the job market for some time and don’t want to take a chance so you decide not to negotiate. You are also worried that this opportunity may go away if you don’t accept it and you may not get another opportunity quickly.

In a situation like this you are doing disservice to yourself if you decide to take the offer that is not up to the mark without negotiating, or drop this opportunity altogether because of your unfounded fears.  Either way, you fear has influenced a sub-optimal decision. If you really like this role then the right thing would be to negotiate and get what you are looking for.

In the corporate and business world, knowing what you want and how to get it can be powerful enablers for your success.

Sometimes when you start thinking of the outcome of a decision and the change in particular it would entail, your will to take that decision itself could take a beating.

Why is it important to detach yourself from the outcome of a decision?

  1. When You Are Emotional About An Issue You Could Make The Wrong Decision

Doctors, including the best of surgeons, do not usually operate on their close relatives. This is because the emotional bond they have with the patient could cloud their judgment and prevent them from carrying out surgical procedures that are critical for the patient but may involve calculated risks.  The thought of losing someone close to you can be very painful, making the task of doing what needs to be done, daunting.

In the business world, taking decisions when you are in an emotional state could be detrimental to your interest.

  1. When You Are Invested In An Issue Or Problem, Rational Decisions Can Become Difficult

Some years ago, I had a team member whose performance was consistently below par and somehow not improving despite repeated discussions, counselling and support. After a year and half of not meeting even the minimum performance levels, the writing was on the wall.  This person could no longer continue.

Despite the fact that I knew this clearly, I was somehow not prepared to take the step of letting him go.  The reason being, I knew this person quite well and somehow hoped against hope that he would shape up if he had some more time. The fact was, we had already given him more than adequate time but the situation had only got worse.

Eventually, we came to an understanding that he would look for a position that was more suited to his skills and interest, and it all worked out. But in the time that it did, it caused resentment in other team members who felt they were working very hard while someone else was not.

When emotions are involved in an issue, it puts undue pressure on you while taking the right decision and you may end up putting that decision off, even if it is not in your and your organization’s best interest.

So, how do you go about taking a rational approach to your decision-making?

  1. Keep Emotions Out Of Your Decision

When I was in IBM, I reported to a very accomplished leader, Vanitha Narayanan who currently heads IBM in India. She had several sterling qualities that are not very common in the corporate world.  One thing stood out in particular- she kept emotions out of her decision-making, completely.

If she had to take a difficult decision that was imperative but would impact someone who was close to her, she would take it without any hesitation.  Similarly, all her appraisals were based on one single parameter alone, performance.

When you take decisions keeping your emotions out then the only thing you have to go by, are facts, which is what you should be basing your decisions on.

  1. Recognize Facts

There is one thing common to people who abuse substances or alcohol- they neither recognize nor accept the fact that they are doing it.

When you want to take an important decision not having all the facts or having the facts but not recognizing it, can both be detrimental to the quality of your decision. If you let your biases and likes and dislikes come in your way, you could interpret available data wrongly and take a wrong decision. So, learn to recognize facts and not let your thinking cloud your judgment.

  1. Develop An Ability To Operate In Uncertain Conditions

The ability to take the right decisions in the face of uncertainty and incomplete information, is prized in corporate circles. The more you are able to extrapolate limited data and arrive at meaningful information that enables you to decide, the more effective you will be. There is seldom a situation in the business world where all possible information relating to an issue is available to you before you decide what to do. And then, there is always a time value of money and every day you delay in taking a decision will add to your costs.

Take an extreme case of decision-making under pressure- a surgeon deciding whether or not to operate on a patient brought unconscious to the Emergency Room with severe injuries. There is no time to ask the patient anything. He is not in a position to respond in any case. Time is limited and the doctor needs to take a call.

Fortunately we are not always faced with a similar situation in the business world but when you are, how well you can rely on your instinct and the limited data available to you, can make all the difference between success and failure. It can also decide whether you are an exceptional leader or not.

  1. Learn To Rely On Your Instinct

There are two ways to solve a maze puzzle.

The first one is the most common and you start from the entrance to the maze and try and reach the end through trial and error. Several times you may find that the path you chose is blocked so you will have to start all over again.

The other option is to start from the end of the maze and go to the entrance or beginning of the maze. The advantage of this approach is that there is only one path from the exit of the maze that leads to the entrance while there are several paths from the entrance of the maze that lead towards the exit. So you can move faster and with certainty.

Think of your instinct as the second option. When you encounter a problem try and listen to what your mind tells you, even if it does not make sense at that time. Over time and with practice, you will start getting the right answers very quickly and with lesser effort.

During a very critical negotiation, we had reached an impasse and just then purely relying on my instinct and what I perceived from the opposite team’s body language, I did the unthinkable and took a stand.

For those of you who are not familiar with negotiations, know that taking a stand can kill a negotiation as there is only a yes or no response possible. In the event the person you are negotiating with decides to walk away there is no outcome possible. And if you then go back to that person and accept what they have said, you lose face and damage your relationship.

In this case the client agreed to go with my stand and things fell in place. The point is my instinct had guided me correctly and I could close the negotiation with a Win-Win outcome.

  1. Once You Reach A Decision Detach Yourself From Outcomes

Any decision you take will have some implications and a possible outcome. Once you take a decision you are no longer in an uncommitted mode, you now have your skin in the game.

Let’s say you are considering a job change and you have finally received a very good offer.

After you accept this offer and put in your papers you find out that your company is now giving out stock options to a select group of employees and you are one of them. The stock options are available only to existing employees.

Assuming that you are moving for the right reasons and have found an excellent job for yourself, you should not start reconsidering your resignation or exploring taking it back.

The point is, you need to do a lot of homework before you take a decision. Once you have reached a decision, rehashing your information based on changing data point will weaken your position and it will be very difficult for you to take any decision at all.  If you develop a mind set of vacillating you will no longer be a committed leader.

You can never lose what you don’t already have!



About The Author:

Srinivasan is an independent consultant working in the area of strategy and technology interventions in the public sector domain. He has worked in companies like IBM and TCS and has over 30 years of experience spanning 24 countries.