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The ticking clock of a deadline isn't the only kind of pressure that makes for bad decisions. So does uncertainty, such as feeling that your job or your company's future is under threat.

Dr. Pillay cites a study that discovered that feelings of uncertainty activated brain centers associated with anxiety and disgust, and that such concerns naturally lead to certain kinds of decisions. "In times of uncertainty," he says, "you start acting out of that sense of doom and gloom."

The problem, he says, is that the study also showed that 75% of people in uncertain situations erroneously predicted that bad things would happen. So the reactions and decisions that were made based on fear and anxiety could turn out to be exactly the wrong moves.

Let's say a company is having a rough time navigating the weak economy. A manager who's mired in doom-and-gloom thinking might be too pessimistic to hire new staff or invest in new equipment. But those might be exactly the moves the company needs to gain ground on competitors.

Given that uncertainty is a hallmark of many modern workplaces, the solution lies not in trying to avoid it, but in learning to accept it. "It's important to be aware that your response is likely to be an exaggeration," Dr. Pillay says.

Dr. Pillay recently coached executives at a large energy company on making decisions amid uncertainty, and focused on helping them understand that no decision is final - if circumstances change, you can always re-evaluate it later. That can take the pressure off, he says, and free people to act. Simply being aware of your tendency to embrace doom-and-gloom thinking in uncertain situations, and consciously countering it by reframing an issue in more positive terms, can also be effective.

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