When we think about deciding something, we usually imagine a slow process with enough time for considering all pertinent issues. Some decisions really do happen that way. But in the course of a day, we all make hundreds or thousands of decisions, often with inadequate information. And we make most of those decisions without enough time to consider them carefully.
For example, consider the decision about whether to have a cup of herbal tea or that fourth cup of coffee. Herbal tea would probably be the right choice for most of us. And if we can slow down enough to consider the decision carefully, herbal tea would probably be the choice many of us would make. But in a rush, and without giving the matter much thought, many of us go with coffee.
One of the more Simple, easily recalled
guidelines for making
choices can significantly
improve our livescommon types of decisions is the decision that involves a choice from among several well-defined options. That's why simple, easily recalled guidelines for making choices can significantly improve our lives. Five examples of such guidelines for choices are below.
- To choose between what we can do and what we must do
- This choice arises when we confront difficult situations — especially emotionally difficult situations. Example: Rose is a team member who believes that the approach the team is taking is wrong and will fail. She does the work assigned to her, but she does it slowly, and not at the level required for the team to succeed. One option is to work around her passive sabotage; another is to replace her. Replacing her would require supervisory approval and probably lead to disciplinary action. It would be messy and time consuming. Working around her passive sabotage is a tempting way to avoid the mess.
- Often, workarounds don't avoid the unpleasantness. They offer little more than temporary delay of the inevitable. Unless you have strong evidence that a workaround provides permanent relief, the main effect of a workaround can be to delay dealing with a problem until the cost of the problem becomes unaffordable. When choosing between "pay now" and "pay later," be certain that the price won't rise beyond your means.
- To choose between the perfect and the good enough
- This guideline is often quoted as, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." (This quote is a variant of what Voltaire actually wrote in "Art Dramatique", in Dictionnaire philosophique (in French): "The best is the enemy of the good." That, in turn was from an Italian proverb: "il meglio è nemico del bene.") Recasting this sage advice for modern workplace decision-making, we must sometimes choose between a level of quality with which we would be proud to be associated, and a lesser level that's actually good enough.
- Trouble arises when pride gains too much influence over our decisions. Often, when we fall into this trap, perfection (or to Voltaire, "best") wasn't the goal. Rather it was pride. Striving to create something that can be the basis of boasting is a dangerous choice. Strive instead to manage pride.
- To choose between the urgent and the important
- In 1954, in an address to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, President Eisenhower observed that among all problems, "The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." [Eisenhower 1954] This idea has since been elaborated as the "Eisenhower Matrix," and propagated by others, including Stephen Covey. Choosing where to focus our attention can be challenging when the choice is between the urgent and the important.
- One source of this challenge is the nature of urgent problems. Urgent problems demand our attention; important problems merely require it. One approach to making the right choice between the urgent and the important is to become skeptical of demands.
- To choose between the whole truth and whatever anything else is
- When deciding what to acknowledge about something, the whole truth of it is the only real truth. Falsehoods, of course, have no place in our considerations. But partial truths can be just as dangerous as falsehoods. They lead us to bad choices and wrong conclusions.
- Life isn't so simple as to make the whole truth of something easily accessible when we need it. And when we're making decisions we can't always be certain that we know the whole truth. But we can develop a skill for detecting partial truths. One indicator of partial truth might be that it tends to favor the interests of those pressing most urgently for an end to our deliberations.
- To choose between what we do believe and what we would prefer to believe
- This choice is perhaps the riskiest of all. When information comes along that raises questions about what we prefer to believe, we choose a response, often without realizing that we're choosing at all. Many choose what they would prefer to believe. Despite what they might say to themselves and others, what they do believe is what the new reality tells them must be so. Still, they continue clinging to what they prefer to believe.
- This pattern is so common that it has a name: the backfire effect. [Nyhan 2010] Another pattern in need of a name is the mate of the backfire effect. It is the pattern people adopt when trying to dissuade those who are ensnared in the backfire effect. The dissuaders try to use rational means to persuade those who are clinging to irrational beliefs. Rational argument rarely prevails over irrational belief.
Being aware of these choice points does help us make better choices. But this knowledge cannot help us when we're making a choice outside our awareness, because we aren't aware we're making a choice. Watch carefully for those incidents in which you made a choice but you weren't aware you were doing so. Add that situation to your personal collection. Or not. Your choice. Top Next Issue
Love the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Renewal is a time to step out of your usual routine and re-energize. We find renewal in weekends, vacations,
days off, even in a special evening or hour in the midst of our usual pattern. Renewal provides perspective.
It's a climb to the mountaintop to see if we're heading in the right direction.
- Games for Meetings: III
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part III of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Healthy Practices
- Some organizational cultures are healthy; some aren't. How can you tell whether your organizational
culture is healthy? Here are some indicators.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone
or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II
of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
- Preventing Sidebars
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. How
can we prevent them?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
- And on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
- Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info