When deciding is easy, we decide so quickly that we hardly notice we've made a decision. When we identify an activity as a decision, we usually do so because the deciding part is hard. That might be why so many "decisions" seem difficult.
Sometimes, when a decision is difficult, the source of the difficulty lies beyond the issue itself. Here are some situations that can make deciding difficult.
- Personal conflicts of interest
- Whether the decision has personal consequences for the decider or for another, concerns about conflicts of interest can make deciding difficult. We worry about accusations of vendetta, revenge, favoritism, or corruption, even as we struggle to find an ethical path.
- If you can take the personal consequences out of the decision, the decision itself is usually clear. The real problem then becomes dealing with those personal consequences. If you can't find a way to separate out those consequences, perhaps you aren't the person who ought to be making that decision.
- Organizational conflicts of interest
- Sometimes the conflict of interest arises from your affiliation with an organizational element, or a history of toxic conflict between your organizational element and others.
- The effects of organizational conflicts of interest are similar to those of personal conflicts of interest, though they're usually less intense. It's usually best to either find a way to don the statesman's hat, taking the part of the whole organization, or stand aside.
- All your choices are bad
- Even when all your choices are bad, the deciding usually isn't the hard part. The challenges are accepting that there is no good outcome, and learning to live with whatever ickiness you chose.
- Before you make the decision, be certain that you've examined all the possible choices. Abandon dogma and cherished beliefs to expand the range of choices you're willing to think about. Once you've done that, even if you uncover no good solution, acceptance of the least undesirable outcome is a little easier.
When we're confused about the source of the difficulty in making a decision, we struggle with the decision itself, and that isn't as likely to produce a viable outcome. It's usually best to determine what the problem is first. Solving something else is less likely to lead to a solution.
Once we When all your choices are bad,
the deciding usually isn't the hard
part. The challenge is accepting
that there is no good outcome.understand the source of difficulty, the decision itself can suddenly become clear. We then know what choice to make, and the problem then becomes figuring out how to deal with the consequences of that choice.
Watch for a chance to observe a group struggling with a tough decision. Is the decision itself the source of the difficulty, or does the difficulty arise from the consequences of the decision? When the difficulty does lie elsewhere, how can you help? Top Next Issue
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See also Ethics at Work and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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