Can decisions be triggered by trained impulse, or are they always a process?
Marines are not known for being indecisive. In fact, they have a phrase to inhibit bad decisions under the pressure of split second timing. Most of us do not work under the pressure of whizzing bullets with bombs on every side. However, there are times when bulletins and explosive events in the work place need to be faced immediately and decisively. What’s your method for making good quick decisions? How do you face the immediate when things are going wrong and the time to respond with a decision is now?
The Marines use the phrase, “Marines don’t do that.” Here’s how it might work from a true situation. British Marines in Afghanistan came upon a badly wounded insurgent. One of the Marines becomes angry at seeing him, takes his pistol with the obvious decision to kill him. With seconds hanging in the balance before the act, what can you say? “Marines don’t do that.”
It is an appeal to his sense of identity, “You represent the Marines!”, with a reminder that because of his identity he must consider first how his decision is contrary to the ethics of the group will affect the reputation of the group. All that in less than 3 seconds! But would such a call to personal pride in identity with the latent reminder of wrong be more powerful than a short barked command, “Stop!” because of his uncontrolled rage? What controls decisions?
Michael Wheeler, Professor at Harvard Business School, in a lecture on how to make a deal in 3 seconds, is strongly convinced that identity is key, with this short phrase implying: “Remember who you are. Don’t renounce your identity.” Identity is even more powerful than military command in making snap decisions.
Key to the whole idea is that when people already have their minds made up to an action, you may not have opportunity to logically influence them. Whether it is a fellow employee who is doing something contrary to corporate regulations or a marine on a battlefield, the time to engage passes quickly. And strong emotion has a short fuse. In seconds decisions are made that affect years.
Angry people are hardest to engage. But the silent determined type may refuse helpful input as well. And maybe one of the biggest problems is the fearful crowd, the fellow soldiers standing there as witnesses, who refuse to get involved decisions are going down.
The Marine in Afghanistan? He did shoot the insurgent, with the comment, “It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.” An excuse, because he turned to his comrades and asked them not to say anything because he knew his decision was wrong. But his actions were recorded on helmet cameras; he went to trial and was convicted of murder. Decisions often come back to visit us to hold us accountable.
Too late the marine considered the consequences of a failed career, bad reputation to the Marines and shame to himself, his family and friends. It may be that the key to altering what you perceive to be a bad decision in a friend or colleague is to focus on consequences. And the struggle there is to know the person well enough to know what will best cause them to reflect on their decisions. Three seconds may require something harsh, “Stop! Don’t do that.” Or it may be better served with a quick reminder, “I see you stronger than that.”
Marines who fall asleep during boot camp training get into trouble. But so do the men to their left and right who failed to provide an elbow to the ribs to keep the bad decisions from happening.
Deciding how to respond comes after you have determined that you will speak what you regard to be true based on your evaluation of events. You cannot wait until it’s raining to avoid the flood. The process of negotiating the decisions that are life changing begins with the inner courage to speak and engage those around you. In each case, you are making decisions that will be good – for the other guy!