Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 15;   April 10, 2002: How We Avoid Making Decisions

How We Avoid Making Decisions

by

When an important item remains on our To-Do list for a long time, it's possible that we've found ways to avoid facing it. Some of the ways we do this are so clever that we may be unaware of them. Here's a collection of techniques we use to avoid engaging difficult problems.
Detour Sign

Most managers face an array of undecided questions. Many issues have been open for months or years, and some have been "put to bed" repeatedly only to reawaken every time. Maintaining a heavy backlog of undecided issues requires great skill.

Here's a collection of techniques we use either to avoid engaging difficult problems, or to make such poor decisions that the issues never go away.

Hurrying Past the Problem
Don't waste time defining the problem. Turn over no rocks — you might find a problem that's even more difficult to deal with than the one you have.
The Infinite Loop
If you can't keep the issue off the agenda, you can still avoid a decision by keeping the issue on the agenda for as long as possible. Just dither, and dither, and never decide. Discuss it endlessly.
The Detour
After you engage the issue, develop a need for more information, advice, or resources. Delay making a decision until you've met that need.
The High or Low Priority Interrupt
You finally Maintaining a heavy
backlog of undecided
issues requires great skill
get down to deciding something, and suddenly up pops an emergency so urgent that you have to drop what you're doing. If there are no emergencies, decide that this issue isn't pressing enough to deal with right now. Of course, it's all a ruse — you wanted to drop what you were doing.
The Deflection
You set out to make a decision on one issue, but another issue comes up. It takes logical precedence over the original issue, and you turn your attention to it. You forget the original issue, at least temporarily.
The Tunnel Vision Technique
You know what answer you want, and you take the most direct path to get there, independent of the true nature of the issue.
Embarrassment Insurance
If you're afraid that something embarrassing might be uncovered by a study, guide the process away from that embarrassment, and come to a conclusion as soon as possible.
Avoiding the Undesirable
To avoid politically undesirable approaches, exclude anyone or any topic that might lead to an open discussion of those approaches.
Ground Hog Day
Named for the film — make the decision, but before you implement it, open the issue again, and return to the beginning.
Waiting for the Lone Ranger
A search is underway for someone to fill a position that's logically responsible for this issue. It wouldn't be right to make a decision now, we'd be infringing.
Death by Inaction
When you've been unable to prevent a decision, you can still nullify it by undermining the implementation. It's almost as good as if you hadn't made the decision at all.

To limit these behaviors, first talk about them, and then track how often they occur. Giving them names helps us see what we're doing "in the moment." Knowing the trends in frequency of use of these ploys helps you limit their use.

Changing your decision-making pattern is tricky. Before you can control it, you must first decide to control it. Go to top Top  Next issue: The True Costs of Cubicles  Next Issue

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Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

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