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Taking time to reflect makes for better decisions. Here’s how

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Hi there, I spent a long weekend at a Benedictine cloister a couple of weeks ago. It’s something I no
 

Work in Progress

November 25 · Issue #10 · View online
The newsletter about work

Hi there,
I spent a long weekend at a Benedictine cloister a couple of weeks ago. It’s something I now do twice a year. A guiding principle for the Benedictines is hospitality – making room for others. And while the monks don’t take a vow of silence, they do observe quiet times, like during meals, and urge substantive talk over chatter. The contrast with the outside world could not be greater. 
That makes the cloister a great place to slow down and reflect. In the stillness I finally finished reading Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s brilliant biography of Abraham Lincoln. I recommend the book and the quiet weekend away, if you can swing it.

Claim your time to stop and think
This line from the book got me thinking:
The normally talkative Seward said merely that the “subject involved consequences so vast and momentous that he should wish to bestow on it mature reflection before giving a decisive answer.”
President Lincoln had just asked his Secretary of State what he thought of the Emancipation Proclamation, the now-famous executive order that would prove key to ending slavery in the US. And William Seward wanted to give it some thought.
It wasn’t that he was against such a step – Seward had always pushed to free all enslaved people. But he wanted to determine how best to do that: what course of action he’d advise the president to take, the wording to reach that end, the timing he’d recommend. Throughout the book Lincoln weighs important decisions – on his own or with input from Seward and the rest of the cabinet – by taking the time to consider things from all sides. 
The issues you or I weigh in on, of course, don’t come close to being this momentous. Yet for some reason, the bigger the topic, the more we tend to feel we have to decide straightaway. Act now or you’ll be too late, we think, with all the frantic consequences that entails. 
While I certainly don’t think our decisions are unimportant, or that we should just shrug them off as details, I do believe that hasty action can work against you. Consider this an invitation for “mature reflection” – for taking the time to stop and think.
When to keep your mouth shut (and when to ask for input)
Taking the time to consider your response is super relevant at work. First and foremost: sense when to keep your mouth shut. And learn when to say, “I need to think about that.” Then go back through what you know. Review the facts. Map out possible consequences. Figure out what you really think about the issue at hand. Weigh your words.  
You can start small. Say you’re in a meeting and can’t get behind a suggested course of action – maybe you’re not even sure why. You can always say, “Give me a while to think about this one. By the end of the day I’ll let you know what I think.” That creates room for you to mull it over and lets others know what to expect. 
Managers: if you sense reluctance or friction, experiment with letting people know when you’ll be making a decision and when you’ll need everyone’s input by.
I can’t promise that your decisions will then go down in history, but they’ll certainly be the better for it.

Have a good week!
Rick


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