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How do we make urgent decisions when dealing with behaviours?

I was reading an article on how firefighters made decisions in time limited situations and it struck me as being very similar to how people make quick decisions when dealing with inappropriate behaviour. The two main influences were 1) did the person had past experience to similar issues and 2) did they recognised the current situation to being similar to others they had experienced (Flin, 1996). From this they were able to make decisions based on past experiences. But what about if they did not have experience to guide them?
Klein (1998) interviewed senior firefighters about how they made decisions and came up with the naturalistic decision making (NDM) theory. As you would expect the level of experience has a great deal to do with the way we make decisions. If we have experience we call on our memory of past events and use this to help us decide. But if we do not have experience we tend to use procedures and processes we have been taught (Flin, 1996; Wyatt, 2003).

For example, Wyatt (2003) discusses how experienced paramedics will tended to be able to focus in on the most important issue while newer paramedics will follow the procedural steps they have been taught. So to extend on that, new teachers, social workers etc will follow the procedures they where taught in college, new police officers what the guidelines or rule book says and new parents what nurses and other practitioners tell them they should do. They follow rules of thumb because they are unsure of what else they can do.

Once the teacher, social worker, paramedic or parent gains experience they tend to begin to recongise situations from what has happened in the past. They then begin to use responses and decisions based on what they did in the past if they feel that it was successful. So when under pressure to make a decision, if they think this is like a situation they can remember, then they will choose a response that they used in the past.

This has 4 implication for us when thinking about how to deal with inappropriate behaviour:

1) is that we need to give inexperienced people some type of framework to base decisions on until they build up their experience. That was why I developed the BECOME six steps, to help guide the inexperienced - see my webpage on what the 6 steps are

2) if someone has lots of experience they will take short cuts and not use a framework. They rely more on their past experience.

3) that even though people have had a lot of experience they will still come across situations that they have never experienced and need to think of a novel solution. This might be based on a combination or elements of responses that have worked in the past. The BECOME six steps can help them think about how to create that solution.

4) that experienced people will get into the habit of responding to similar issues in the same way all the time. That same way might not work for everyone that they need to respond too. Remember that human responses are extremely varied and what works for most may not work for some. Which means that at times you will need to come up with another type of response or solution and you are now in a situation like in point three above.

So, if your inexperienced you need some type of framework to base your decisions on and if your experienced it is good to have a framework to help you make decisions in novel situations or when your usual response does not work. BECOME is that framework that can help you with your decision making when dealing with inappropriate behaviour.


Flin, R. (1996). Command decision making. In Sitting in the hot seat (chap. 5, pp. 140-184). London: Wiley & Sons.
Klein, G. (1998). Sources of power: How people make decisions. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Wyatt, A. (2003). Paramedic practice-knowledge invested in action. Journal of Emergency Primary Health Care, 1(3-4). (See introduction)
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