brexit decision making

Brexit! You’ve probably heard about it if you’re British or live in Europe. In case you need bringing up to speed, here’s a quick summary. After 40 years together, Europe and the UK are negotiating how they will separate and go their own ways.

It’s a hard story to escape for us Brits and it feels like this Brexit decision making been going on for eternity.

Listening to the radio this morning reminded me of the urgency surrounding the negotiation. There are clearly some highly charged emotions at play. Add to that the obvious lack of any clear understanding of the actual outcomes and the prevalence of perceptions and beliefs. It’s not hard to see what a hopeless mess we find ourselves in.

Complex decisions and uncertainty can affect mental health

In following the story, I can’t help but notice how shattered our MPs look when I see them on the television. In the last week, some MPs have come out saying that Brexit is affecting their mental health with many waking up at 5am worrying about it. Well, it’s understandable. After all there’s so much at stake, though exactly what, no one knows!

My research into how people make decisions and judgements highlighted the forces at play when people make decisions. These forces are at play even when a monumental decision such as on what terms the UK and Europe will separate.

We could assume that given the enormity of the decision, that our MPs are pouring over it in a rational and sensible fashion. But the truth is probably the opposite.

In environments where there is a sense of urgency and where people are dealing with the unknown or are poorly informed, emotions become the defacto response mechanism.

This is even more likely when people are tired and under stress. In situations like this our decision-making shortcuts kick in. These shortcuts are known as our cognitive biases and heuristics.

When facing complex decision-making, it helps to know about these cognitive biases and heuristics because they do present risks. I would hope that our Brexit negotiators know this and have controls in place to minimise these risks.

The Japanese approach to negotiation

Recently, Chris Evans, Virgin Radio’s Breakfast Radio Host, explained how the Japanese approach negotiating. He explained that they have multiple teams in place when handling delicate negotiations, so that a ‘fresh’ team is always ready to take over. This enables them to maintain progress and focus in negotiations. Very useful when approaching the final stages and the deadline is hurtling towards them.

This team based approach means that they can maintain good decision-making whilst keeping a razor-sharp focus and minimising the human factor risks.

What could we as information security professionals learn from this?

Are you in charge of complex decision-making and dealing with exhaustion or stress? Maybe the employees that you’re expecting to make positive security choices are tired and stressed most of the time.

What about the need to make decisions about something that you have a limited understanding of? Or where the full impact of the decision isn’t fully known?

How can we best prepare for such decision-making? Understanding how humans make decisions is a great place to start!

Our Re-thinking the Human Factor Introductory Workshop is an ideal starting point. Our workshop will teach you the fundamentals when it comes to applying behavioural insights to cyber-security. It’s a big topic but we’ve done the hard work in identifying the key concepts for you. This means that you can start thinking about cyber security in a way that is more in line with the complex times we live in.

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