Decision-making: a soft skill under the microscope
It is estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 conscious decisions every day. These may range from choosing the president of the country to a virtual “like” on Facebook. It is interesting to know that research conducted at Cornell University, estimated that people make more than 200 decisions each day on matters related to food alone. What it all comes down to though, is the fact that each decision one makes, directs a certain course of actions which define a situation, thus produce an end result. Additionally, as responsibilities increase, so does the multitude of choices to make.
Defining the term
As defined, decision-making is the ability to gather and evaluate all relevant information available before choosing an option. It involves identification of the issue, analysing and weighing alternative courses of action and their potential consequences. This is the skill which involves the selection of a specific action among the available alternatives based on all accessible information. It constitutes of timely, transparent and planned activities that allow to see and avoid mistakes or unnecessary risks.
To take or not take a decision? The strategies applied
The process of making a decision or not making one for that matter concerns various styles to proceed or strategies one follows, which will lead to the outcome.
- Priority – putting the most thought and effort into those decisions that will finally have the greatest impact
- Balance – taking into consideration all the factors involved and analysing the information after studying them, to make the most appropriate decision
- Delegation – trusting the ability and experience of others on the specific matter and letting them make the decision
- Communication – contacting other team members and involving them in the decision-making process, to discuss about the best alternatives and keep them informed on the situation and the actions to take
Breaking down the process
- In the simplest sense, decision-making is the act of choosing, and the process includes a series of steps.
- First, the situation is defined and the realisation that there is a need to take a decision is set. Then, all the information is gathered, the evidence is analysed, the choice is made amongst the alternatives given and action is taken. In retrospect, the final step would be to review the decision taken and its consequences.
The seafarer as the decision maker
The process is related to directing a situation, which entails planning, organising and controlling the facts. To achieve the ultimate goal, decision-making is important, to reach the target within certain restrictions such as time. Does one possess the ability to effectively make the right decision under the given circumstances?
Shipping can be complex and some times a severely stressful industry to work at. Extreme stress can produce various attitudes and work under continuous physical pressure, along with the mental stress of having to deal with many factors, can lead to unpleasant situations. An accident can cause shock due to the effect of stress which makes it even harder to make a decision. After the Costa Concordia disaster was investigated, the captain Francesco Schettino himself confessed in making a judgment error which led the ship striking an underwater rock, causing 32 deaths. The total cost of the disaster was estimated approximately 2 billion USD, including the victims’ compensation.
Onboard situations demand for the willingness to take a decision under extreme measures some times. A decision on board can define the relationships between the seafarers and how they can coexist. Moreover, a simple decision by someone can direct the course of a vessel or more importantly prevent any mishaps.
No crew needs an indecisive seafarer onboard or a seafarer who rushes to make decisions which are not based on proper analysis of the situation. Thus, the flip side of this is to identify the ones who are the leaders, who can take in charge of the situation and make the right decision.
As defined, the good decision-maker gathers all available information, analyses it and while considering the alternative options, evaluates additionally the consequences before making the final choice. Safety issues on board are to be treated with major sensitivity and the good decision-maker is able to identify the risks that may arise and have ways to manage them proactively. Nothing should affect the safety of the vessel and the crew, as there is no room for doubts and mistakes.
Assessing the skill
Decision-making is one vital skill included in one of the three clusters of groups assessed in the MET-3S psychometric assessment; in the “Coping Under Pressure” skill scale. The skill is assessed and evaluated accordingly, providing additionally the possible drawbacks, that should be taken into consideration for evaluation.
MET-3S as the maritime-specific psychometric assessment, provides insights into the “soft skills” of officers on board, grouped in three clusters:
- Coping under pressure
- Interpersonal skills
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