How to Make Better Decisions Under Pressure

businessman-low-ceiling-Hendrie-WeisingerWe make decisions every day – what deal to make, whom to promote, who to layoff, what price point to negotiate, where to eat lunch, what clothes to wear to work. Some of these decisions are easier to make than others, but a common denominator for all is that when you feel pressure to make a decision, you frequently make a bad choice. In fact, dozens of empirical studies conducted around the globe leave little doubt that feeling pressured downgrades your cognitive tools – memory, attention, and judgment, so it is not surprising that pressure downgrades your decision make too, sometimes leading to disastrous results.

You’ll make better decisions under pressure if you let your “natural tools” – face, voice, behavior and feelings help you. Here’s how:

Watch Your Facial Expressions. Before an important decision, stand in front of a mirror and think of the decision you are to make. Does your face show happiness, confidence, enthusiasm or anxiety and fear? If the latter, you better think twice.

I had a client who was about to become engaged. She said it was right for her, but when she saw how she looked in a mirror when she was discussing her relationship, she opted out and soon came to realize she would have been making a huge mistake. Her facial expressions helped her realize that she was fooling herself. Later on, she told me that deep down she felt something was wrong but tried to convince herself other wise because she didn’t want to hurt her boyfriend. The mirror on the wall helped her become the fairest of them all.

Listen to Your Voice. Sound carries emotion, which is why some sounds of music make you enthusiastic, other scared, others depressed.

Talk about a decision into a tape recorder or out loud and ask yourself, “How do I sound?” Doing so often brings forth the incongruence between what a person says and what is really going on. Sounds of silence or when the person cannot talk about their decision enthusiastically often indicates one is not listening to one’s instincts/intuitions.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words. Our thoughts often “lie” to us, but our behavior speaks the truth. One client told me for weeks he was confident and enthusiastic about going into business with his friend, but when I pointed out his behavioral avoidance to legally cementing the deal, he confessed that he felt he was kidding himself. Observe your behavior, If it doesn’t match what you say or feel, think about the reasons why, and you will get closer to deciding what is the best action for you to take.

Visualize & Feel The Outcome of Your Decision. When we are anxious/uncertain about a decision we can help ourselves by visualizing and feeling the outcome as if we had decided one way or another.

Ask yourself, “How will I feel in a year if go down this path? Answers of joy, engagement, interest are telling you it is a path to take, that you are in tune with your nature. If the answers are different, your bad feelings are saying, “This isn’t for you. Don’t do it.”

Not long ago, I was giving a presentation in Boca to the 200 most successful women in a major financial institution. Shortly after my presentation, while I was waiting to be driven to the airport, one of the participants approached and asked if she could have a few minutes of my time. “Go ahead,” I told her.

She told me that she worked in Florida and had been offered a new position in the firm with great opportunities in LA. It was everything she wanted…but for some reason, she felt uncomfortable about taking it. She explained she had lived in Florida for five years after moving there from New York because she wanted to be closer to her parents who lived in a retirement community in Miami. She saw them frequently. She said she had to make her decision in a week and didn’t know what to do.

I gave her the following instructions. “For the next week, several times a day, imagine yourself living in LA. It is six months from now. How do you think you will feel about not seeing your parents frequently? How will you feel about not seeing your friends? Does it make you feel good to think of yourself in Los Angeles? Does the type of work you’re doing excite you much more than your current work?”

A week later, she sent me an email:  “I’ve decided… when I think about how I will feel if I took this job and moved so far away, I realize that it would not make me happy. What does make me happy is being close to my parents and my good friends. The truth is, I like my work a lot but these other things are more important to me, too. I think I was feeling the pressure to take a move-up position, but it wasn’t making me comfortable; that was the nagging feeling I was having. It was telling me something was wrong. Now, I feel good about my decision,” she wrote.

Next time you have to decide under pressure, listen to your natural tools, not others! You and your team can learn how to handle pressure more effectively by taking this empowering online E-workshop:


Hendrie Weisinger

Hendrie Weisinger

Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D. is a celebrated and influential psychologist, pioneer in the field of pressure management, the originator of criticism training and the author of two New York Times bestselling books. He has consulted with and developed programs for dozens of Fortune 500 Companies and government agencies and has taught in Executive Education and Executive MBA programs at Wharton, UCLA, NYU, Cornell, Penn State, and MIT. His work has been featured several times in The New York Times Sunday Business Section, and numerous popular magazines. His article for The Wall Street Journal, So You’re Afraid To Criticize Your Boss, was selected as one of their 60 best management articles and reprinted in Dow Jones on Management. He has appeared on more than 500 radio and television shows including Oprah, Good Morning America, Charlie Rose, and was the featured expert for 5 consecutive days on The Today Show for their anger management special. His newest book and NY Times Bestseller is Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most You can learn more about Dr. Weisinger and his new empowering E Workshop Experience, Performing Under Pressure at

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