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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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- Some Truths About Lies: II
- Knowing when someone else is lying doesn't make you a more ethical person, but it sure can be an advantage
if you want to stay out of trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.
- Managing Personal Risk Management
- When we bias organizational decisions to manage our personal risks, we're sometimes acting ethically
— and sometimes not. What can we do to limit personal risk management?
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: I
- Some risks and the plans for managing them are personnel-sensitive in the sense that disclosure can
harm the enterprise or its people. Since most risk management plans are available to a broad internal
audience, personnel-sensitive risks cannot be managed in the customary way. Why not?
- Telephonic Deceptions: I
- People have been deceiving each other at work since the invention of work. Nowadays, with telephones
ever-present, telephonic deceptions are becoming more creative. Here's Part I of a handy guide for telephonic
- Some Truths About Lies: IV
- Extended interviews provide multiple opportunities for detecting lies by people intent on deception.
Here's Part IV of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
- And on December 14: Straw Man Variants
- The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.
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