Dee Chadwick
09 Sep 2019
Something that we all do every day, to a greater or lesser degree. Something that we usually just take in our stride, make that decision, that judgement call, then get on with things. On occasion, it can be a split second decision with possible life changing consequences.


These often involve a split second, or pretty damn swift decision. One made based on training, prior knowledge and having the courage of your convictions. Often, but not always, as a result of something going drastically wrong as in the case of a surgeon in the middle of a procedure, a police officer during a chase, a soldier in battle, a pilot during a flight to name but a few. Decisions to be made quickly and decisively with a need to follow through on that judgement call.

Who can forget the emergency landing on the Hudson River by Captain Chesley Sullenberger that hit the news a few years ago with scenes of all 155 passengers on the wings waiting to be rescued as the plane floated on the water. An emergency landing brought about by a bird strike on both engines. The story was told in the film ‘Sully’ showing how that judgement call was later called into question by those who had carried out repeated simulations of the situation. These seemingly showed that he could have turned back to LaGuardia Airport. So what was the difference between those computers and that pilot? The computers did not include the vital, though short, seconds taken for the pilots to recognise and assess what had happened and to react by formulating that judgement call. A call that relied on training, experience and knowledge of the aircraft type. Quoting Wikipedia, Sullenberger said "One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal." Great description of how we develop our ability to make good calls.

Sullenberger used to fly Phantom’s for the American Air Force. My ex flew these planes for the RAF and was called upon to make a judgement call of his own. They were on exercise, so fully armed planes were being flown. He was landing after a sortie to realise that the nose wheel was set off at an angle. An angle that would take them towards a row of parked fully fuelled, armed planes. The nose wheel couldn’t be turned, so ejection was necessary for himself and the navigator. It had to be a quick decision as the plane skewed off towards the side of the runway as soon as they touched down. Add in to this that an ejection on grass is a no-go as the bumping is likely to affect the angle at which the rocket fired ejection seat takes off, and they had no idea how the plane would react to being on the grass at speed. They had to eject on that short bit of runway available to them. An instant judgement call following which both guys landed safely. My ex had a very hard, heavy landing back onto the runway under a parachute that was open for only a matter of seconds; the navigator had a softer grass landing and was uninjured.


We make those calls all of the time, though I doubt that many are quite as dramatic as the ones just described.

We have to decide which way to go to get from A to B in our cars. OK, we have technology to help support our human touch by way of Sat Nav though the latter isn’t always infallible and I do get annoyed when my somewhat antiquated version keeps telling me that she is recalculating, if I dare to make a judgement call myself. She nags me in a voice that I always feel sounds rather miffed if I have dared to deviate from the route that she had chosen. It’s usually at this point that I suggest she unknots her underwear and gets on with the job.

Technology is also used in sport in support of field of play judgement calls made by the officials – there is hawk-eye in tennis to check line calls; reviews in cricket to support or set aside decisions made by the on-pitch umpire; VAR (Virtual Assistant Referee) in rugby and soccer. Certainly the latter is being met by mixed reviews and seemingly no lessening of the ‘we wos robbed’ comments from supporters. Maybe it’s a case of the crowds having to become accustomed to the delays, to the break in the flow of play whilst the actual referee receives feed-back or checks out the pitch-side screen. Or is it that we Brits love to have a good old moan and VAR provides a new supply of stuff about which we can moan? In theory, that split second judgement call which may have been given from an impeded view point is supported by cameras strategically placed and having benefit of real-time and slow-motion replay. They don’t blink at inappropriate times, and aren’t distracted by other things happening around and the distracting appeals and antics of those involved. I guess time will tell how we adapt to this particular technology.


Making a judgement call that is a good one, one fitting the bill for a situation is something that takes a lot of practise. It involves a high percentage of poor choices, calls that leave a lot to be desired. All part of growing up and learning that you have an opinion that usually deserves to be heard, but also learning to accept that your judgement calls, along with those opinions, will not always be right.

Along with this comes a huge skill to be learnt – that one involving admitting that you were wrong, you made a mistake and accepting this with good grace rather than grudgingly. Sadly, a skill that not all adults – including 73 year-old presidents – seem to have acquired! They keep on trying to prove their point rather than making subsequent judgement call to hold up their hand and say that they got it wrong. Often not an easy thing to do. The main problem seems to be that the hole they dig for themselves into by trying to prove they were right becomes deeper with each attempt to prove that errant point. So, getting out of it becomes ever more difficult. A lesson well learned at a relatively early age – 73 is apparently MUCH too late, especially I guess for presidents when faced with trying to prove that they are always correct. Yet surely an ability to make good, sound judgement calls is essential for someone in such a position of power?

It’s what we used to call, when I was teaching, the development of critical thinking skills. Though I feel that this learning needs to go well beyond the classroom setting as children will base their judgement calls on the examples set by parents, carers, grandparents, along with so many other ways of coping with life.

At a very early age they begin to insist ‘I can do it’. For many adults, especially when there are other plates to be kept in the air, the quick and easy way is to intervene, take over the task, take control. However, that phrase is the beginning of the process of them working out how to do the task in hand – and also learning how NOT to do it. The best way to support them in this process is to watch and learn yourself. Learn how much that little person is developing their skills, especially that ability to know when to turn to you for help – ok maybe beginning with a squeal of frustration when the task is proving too much for them. But, a judgement call non-the less. Remember they learn by example, so if you respond with a negative put-down, they could well take it upon themselves to do similar and become negative about when things don’t immediately go right. Unfortunately, the easiest way for them to overcome this is to simply not bother trying in future. Not to bother with tasks deemed difficult before even making a cursory attempt to sort it. They miss out on developing that ability to make judgement calls through their critical thinking. OK, early intervention may be easier for you, but you are doing that little one a disservice.


Some are good - others aren’t – like the one that I made this morning to put my washing out on the line. I backed this up by then deciding that the rain would only be a shower. When I actually checked, I could see the black clouds rolling on in, and I ended up getting as wet as the washing when I did a dash to the line. I had dug one of those afore-mentioned holes for myself, rather than retrieve the washing when the rain first started. But – nobody died and only I know of this – well, apart from anyone reading this.

We judge whether it would be a good idea to make a healthy breakfast or grab a bowl of not-so-healthy cereal as it’s quicker.

We judge whether we have drunk enough water in a day or not.

We judge whether we should have that extra glass of wine, bottle of beer.

We judge whether we should get to bed or watch that film – even though we could watch it on catch up at some other time.

These are a few of the many decisions we make on a daily basis. Decisions that involve that element of judgement – what is good or bad for us, better or worse for us. I guess they also involve bringing self-awareness, will power, some concept of balance in to play. There we were thinking it was just a quick decision around which packet we grabbed or whether we pushed that off button.

Throughout our lives, we make so very many of these judgement calls, with many being seemingly minor ones as above, but others such as leaving a job, moving house, getting married having a great impact on our life and the lives of others.


It’s said to be a wonderful thing and in this case it can be. If we use it to reflect back on judgement calls that have worked positively in the past, but probably more importantly facing up to looking at those in which we made an error of judgement. We all make bad judgement calls. Don’t beat yourself up about this. Rather, consider what led to making such calls – were they knee-jerk reactions, or did you weigh up the pros and cons before you made that call – even if the time was limited.

It’s far easier to look back at the calls made by others. This applies to family and friends, but probably to an even greater degree to those in positions of power as the press, the media folk, are happy to join in with the process of public humiliation for poor calls made.  There will always be criticism – even if simply the criticism we heap on ourselves when we made a poor decision.  There will always be those for whom ’you can’t do right for doing wrong’ seemingly applies.

However, it is important to remember that previous calls were made under different circumstances and do not necessarily predict future failure or success. Something that I have worked on in therapy with clients who assume a continuing pattern of poor judgement calls will be never-ending rather than something that they can work on changing. Your first judgement call – consider your choices – preferably speedily if you are about to crash land on the river with a plane full of passengers and crew adopting the brace position.


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