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:
- The Power of Presuppositions
- Presuppositions are powerful tools for manipulating others. To defend yourself, know how they're used,
know how to detect them, and know how to respond.
- Devious Political Tactics: A Field Manual
- Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends.
Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage.
Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.
- On the Appearance of Impropriety
- Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is a frequent basis of business decisions. What does this mean,
what are the consequences of such avoiding, and when is it an appropriate choice?
- 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.
- The Costanza Matrix
- The Seinfeld character "George Costanza" is famous for having said, "It's not a lie if
you believe it." What if you don't believe it and it's true? Some musings.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 29: Newtonian Blind Alleys: II
- Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
- And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.