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Decision making bias: risk aversion


The fear of failure, judgement or rejection, guilt, uncertainty can create unpleasant sensations that we are legitimately inclined to avoid.

This aversion of negative emotions can create mistakes in judgement called decision making bias. Risk aversion, loss aversion, overvaluation of the immediate benefits, conformity bias, confirmation bias, authority bias represent all these biases that can weaken judgement without even knowing it. As we say, “Forewarned is forearmed”, thus identifying these biases can help us to reduce their influence and to make better decisions.

Let’s have a look to the first one, risk aversion. In the human History, people who were the most careful were the ones who survived long enough to have descendants and pass on their genes. We are the result of this natural selection. Our brain creates a flight response during risky situations.

Today, the risk of bumping into a predator is relatively rare. However, fear is still a part of our life: fear of not being liked, to be criticized, rejected, to make mistake, to fail… Making decisions is taking risks, particularly in the professional life.


Risk aversion can create three types of behaviour:

Avoidance: it consists in not making decisions, delegating to someone else the responsibility or waiting for the situation to get solved by itself.
In companies, there are a lot of managers who works like this and does not answer to their colleagues when they need validation. This technic can be useful in organizations where the wait-and-see policy is more important than innovation.
Hyper control: the person needs to study every aspect of the situation, to consult every expert on the matter before deciding. He or she often makes the right decision but too late. In the professional environment, hyper control can also create micromanagement which means that managers require from their colleagues to validate every decision they make.
Impulsiveness: to flee from stress caused by decision-making, the person walks straight into the action, without taking time to think or to consult. Even if it means that they will have to step back afterwards because they realise they made a bad decision.

To reduce the impact of risk aversion, a few tips can help us:

For the “avoider”: evaluating the risk and comparing it to the risk we take if we don’t do anything.
For the “hyper controller”: gradually experience situations where we need to let go and delegate.
For “impulsive people”: force ourselves to take time to consult other people and to step back for important decisions.

Go further with: “Comment prendre de bonnes decisions”, Nadine Sciacca, published by Marabout (February 2016)

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