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I am having difficulty with some of my COVID-19-related decisions, and it’s unusual for me to have any trouble deciding. Decision making is one of my superpowers!

It’s important to consider our values and priorities when making decisions. I think of them as rulers. When I’m trying to make a choice, I hold up my values ruler and see which option is most in alignment with my values. Whatever is important to me right now also needs to be taken into consideration – that’s the priorities ruler.

We each have several rulers that we use when making decisions. Another significant ruler is the impression management ruler. We all want to be seen by others in a certain way. We do what we can to manage other people’s impressions of us to ensure we are seen as we want to be seen. For example, I want to be seen as professional and smart, so I do things that enhance that image. We always hold our impression management ruler up to any decision and consider whether or not it will enhance the image we want to project.

Lately, those rulers are not helping. I find myself faced with two choices, and neither one of them feels like a great choice. For example, one friend has invited me out to eat. I like her and really miss going to restaurants. I haven’t eaten out since early March. However, I don’t feel like going to a restaurant is a great idea for me right now. I am in one of the higher risk categories for COVID-19, and I just don’t want it. I don’t want to expose anyone to it, either.

Going or not going to a restaurant isn’t a huge decision; it’s just an example. However, it still gives me pause. I can hear that my friend is disappointed when I refuse. I want to be a good friend and see her, but I just feel uncomfortable about going. It’s not a value, priority, or impression management issue so I pull out the big guns – my regret ruler.

If the choices seem equally terrible or uncomfortable, I ask myself which one I will regret more now, in a few days, in a year, and in five years. The key is to determine which choice creates the most long-term regret and avoid it. Clearly, I will immediately regret not going out for a fun evening with someone I like. However, if one of us falls ill or if I carry COVID-19 to a family member, the regret would be greater – and long-lasting.

Of course, there is uncertainty involved. I could go to dinner and come back with nothing but a full stomach. I look at worst-case scenarios and the amount of risk. Once again, it’s a judgment call, but if I do a gut-check, I could not live with myself if I gave a potentially fatal disease to a family member in order to go out to dinner. I would also feel deep regret if I caught it and became a toxic burden to others. The amount of regret that I would feel is simply not worth the risk.

Like the values, priorities, and impression management rulers, the regret ruler is very personal – as is risk assessment. The variations in our regret rulers and risk assessment seem to be major contributors to the differences of opinion that are rampant in our society right now.

I am reminded of a video that I watched of several different people intentionally coughing on others to show the intensity of their disagreement on the issue of masks. For the record, that sort of behavior is unacceptable, and those people are definitely not great leaders. In my estimation, they aren’t great humans. They lack emotional intelligence, which starts with self-awareness and self-control.

As leaders, we examine our choices and our rulers, and then manage ourselves to ensure our behaviors are always respectful towards others, no matter how different their rulers are from ours.

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