Decisions Under Duress: Holding a Gun to The Head

What would you do if someone holds a gun to your head to make a decision?

“Sir, this offer is valid only till midnight today”.

“If you don’t pay $100 right now, you will have to pay $200 tomorrow”.

Even without significant empirical data, behavioral scientists believe that competence of human judgment decreases under duress. Typically, stress is believed to narrow the focus of our attention, thereby leading to poor judgment.

I have found that decisions, made “under the gun”, are usually the worst made decisions both personally and professionally.

I remember my  first car buying process, some 25 years ago, in Columbia, Missouri. I had just found an off-campus summer job which required driving distances; I needed (and wanted) a car. I found a blue SAAB 1973, driven by single owner. For $700 I could have the car. Impulsively, without adequate testing or consulting other “experienced” car owners, I made an offer. Within a week , the exhaust system broke down, the brake pads needed changing and many other small things fell apart. On hindsight, had I taken the time to think through and research my decision, the outcome would have probably been more positive.

Billionaire Warren Buffet once stated that when someone puts a tight time-constraint on a business transaction for him, he typically walks away from the transaction.

It is understandable that surgeons, emergency workers or firefighters, in critical situations have to make decisions under significant stress when a person’s health or life is at risk.

However, most of us are neither cardio-surgeons, nor firefighters, where time-based decisions sway life or death. Most of our major decisions,  either to buy a car or to accept a job, can typically wait twenty four hours. I have found that once I “sleep over” a decision, if I still feel good about the decision the next day, it turns out to be a better decision and it just feels a lot better (after a self-imposed moratorium).

Sometimes, I reach a conclusion or decision and just hold the announcement for a day or two. That allows me to think about the decision and reach a much more comfortable place when I choose ot share it with the world.

Recently, I read an intriguing blog titled Peaceful Decisions; the author writes about the vagaries of decision-making under stressful situations with a very specific example about home schooling her children. In her words, Peaceful decisions come from the heart. They come from the spirit. There is no anxiety attached to a peaceful decision. A peaceful decision just flows. It just happens.”  

Personal or professional, I believe, we need to make our major decisions in peace. If you let your true “self” think about how you will feel about the decision tomorrow, a year from now and maybe even five years from now, the decision path and urgency becomes a lot clearer. Sometimes, like Warren Buffet, it’s better not to even take the decision. But if you choose to make the decision, I recommend you sleep over it for a day or two. It’s ok. The world can wait.

At the end of the day, the decision is yours. If tomorrow was the last day of your life, you will have to live with this decision for the rest of your life.


3 thoughts on “Decisions Under Duress: Holding a Gun to The Head

  1. This is a great piece to ponder on. In my personal life I have been blessed with the quality to make decisions under pressure, quick and direct. As over the years I have realized that when it’s a crisis, decisions needed to be made at once. Yes, i do tend to ponder upon Buffet’s version quite a bit and those are mostly matters that can wait, or we can live with or without. I do hope you have a partner in your journey, who is able to make the right decision, at the right time and with out any hesitance-specially and under pressure.
    On that note, yes, decision is always your’s. At the end of the day, it is YOUR’s . 🙂

  2. Fresh out of college, I was working in the Blood Bank dept of a New Jersey hospital during the midnight shift one particular night. We had a trauma case at 3am, and it was my job to ‘type and screen’, and cross match compatible units of blood which would be given to the patient with a critically low level of hemoglobin. Specific protocols are followed in these instances, but this patient had an antibody which greatly elevates the level of difficulty. There was no room for a possible error. My procedures, interpretations, and decisions had to be 100% accurate and quick. I got through that night and the patient lived. My part was small, the majority of care the patient received was by the skillful nurses and doctors who were constantly making life-threatening decisions.
    That same week, I was at the store and it took me forever to decide what color sweater to purchase–LOL.
    Through the years in certain situations, I have found it better not to make quick decisions when I am angry, over-emotional, impulsive, or reacting to others’ opinions. If time allows, it is better to have the peace to know you are making a decision based on facts and overall better in the long run. We have to live with the decisions we make…hopefully they are the right ones. If not, we learn for the next time.
    Good read…

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