Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 21, Issue 43;   October 27, 2021:

Five Guidelines for Choices

by

Each day we make dozens or hundreds of choices — maybe more. We make many of those choices outside our awareness. But we can make better choices if we can recognize choice patterns that often lead to trouble. Here are five guidelines for making choices.
Browsing books in a library. So many books, we must make choices

Browsing books in a library. So many books, we must make choices. Image by cottonbro from Pexels

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 lives
common 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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Way Over Their Heads  Next Issue

Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunLove 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!

Footnotes

[Eisenhower 1954]
Dwight D. Eisenhower. "Address at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches," August 19, 1954. Available here. Back
[Nyhan 2010]
Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. "When corrections fail: The persistence of political misperceptions," Political Behavior 32:2 (2010), 303-330. Available here. Retrieved 22 October 2021. Back

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenEQuetChPjwYBDxmgner@ChacxXTxBssoFmfDfMugoCanyon.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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Horns of a dilemmaChoices for Widening Choices
Choosing is easy when you don't have much to choose from. That's one reason why groups sometimes don't recognize all the possibilities — they're happiest when choosing is easy. When we notice this happening, what can we do about it?
A pattern that isn't a patternCoincidences Do Happen
When we notice similarities between events, or possible patterns of events, we often attribute meaning to them beyond what we can prove. Sometimes we guess right, and sometimes not. How can we improve our guesses?
A calm seaAn Emergency Toolkit
You've just had some bad news at work, and you're angry or really upset. Maybe you feel like the target of a vicious insult or the victim of a serious injustice. You have work to do, and you want to respond, but you must first regain your composure. What can you do to calm down and start feeling better?
A stretch of the Amazon rain forest showing storm damageUnnecessary Boring Work: II
Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom.
Two F-22A raptors line up for refuelingSymbolic Self-Completion and Projects
The theory of symbolic self-completion holds that to define themselves, humans sometimes assert indicators of achievement that either they do not have, or that do not mean what they seem to mean. This behavior has consequences for managing project-oriented organizations.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The side mirror view from an automobileComing December 8: Surviving Incompetence: II
When your organization undertakes a misguided effort that will certainly fail, you have options. One is to head for the exit. To search for a new position in such circumstances requires some care. Example: an internal transfer might not really be an exit. Available here and by RSS on December 8.
A gray wolfAnd on December 15: Do My Job
A popular guideline in modern workplaces is "do your job." The idea is that if we all do our jobs, success is most likely. But some supervisors demand that subordinates do their own jobs, plus the jobs of their supervisors. It rarely works out well. Available here and by RSS on December 15.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenEQuetChPjwYBDxmgner@ChacxXTxBssoFmfDfMugoCanyon.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:

Reprinting this article

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

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.