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Digital Article7 Pitfalls to Avoid in Decision-Making

Some common assumptions often stand in the way of people making good decisions.
Closeup of businessman making decision whether to accept or deny a suggestion or employee.

If learning professionals want to develop flourishing, successful employees, they need to help them learn how to make great decisions. Decisions and how people reach them can make or break organizations. But, many people struggle to make good ones because of inaccurate assumptions.

Here are seven common assumptions to avoid when making decisions.

1.      “We don’t have time — or interest — to involve everyone with a stake in the decision.” When people who have a stake in an issue are left out of a decision, they may feel slighted and become resistant to change. Successful decisions engage stakeholders effectively and efficiently. How? They use multiple opportunities to participate and flexible ways to share perspectives.

2.      “Being paranoid drives superior performance.” Wrong. When people feel fearful, they lose their best thinking. They default to a fight, flight or freeze mentality. In contrast, teams that identify and share their hopes create conditions for sustained, enthusiastic and superior results. Try it. See how people respond when asked, “What are your hopes about this issue?” Then probe more deeply, “Why are those hopes important to you?” Notice how much more engaged and creative they are.

3.      “The presenting issue is the real issue.” While the presenting issue — resolving a budget shortfall, agreeing on a new strategy or choosing which products to develop — is important, it’s often an unstated, underlying issue that stands in the way of a solution. For instance, a community desperately needed a new grammar school. Two bond issues had failed with warring camps arguing about educational quality and fiscal responsibility. When participants listened and reflected on what opponents said, they discovered the unstated issue was concern about unsustainable growth in the area. When they addressed the growth concern, the bond issue passed with more than 70 percent.

4.      “Debates will help us learn.” Debaters seek to win. They want to demonstrate the power of their position and the shortcomings in other points of view while hiding their own shortcomings. In short, they are poor learners. Great decisions need participants who openly share the negatives and positives for each option. When participants do this in a nonadversarial way, their thinking improves. Often, they invent even better solutions than the original options. Debating is an active skill, but heat doesn’t always translate into light. Only thoughtful insight, intelligently shared, does.

5.      “People need to agree on why to agree on what to do.” Participants waste a lot of time in decision-making trying to convince others of their reasons. In reality, people can agree on a shared course of action for different reasons. Thus, encourage everyone to share their perspectives, but don’t try to change their thinking. Ever heard the saying, “The only person who wants to be changed by someone else is a wet baby”? People will change their minds more readily if you let them digest the information and decide on their own. Here’s how. Ask each participant to circle the option they believe best advances the hopes you share. Encourage everyone to list other acceptable options as well. With this information, quickly map the preferences. This focuses discussion on the most promising solution and ways to enhance it with attributes from other acceptable solutions.

6.      “The future will follow our design.” The only thing we know for sure is the future will not be exactly as we have conceived it. Many strategic planning and decision efforts blind participants to this reality. They spend so much time designing what they want they become wedded to their own views and miss chances to perceive future changes and adapt. Instead, develop a preferred choice and one or more acceptable choices. Then, see which one fits best as the future unfolds. This often minimizes the need to redo the whole decision process because you are prepared with acceptable alternatives. High-performing organizations follow a continuous cycle of learn, decide and act.

7.      “Fast decisions yield quick results.” Decisions only serve when they produce results. Too often, participants cut corners because they feel they don’t have enough time to avoid the aforementioned pitfalls. It’s OK to take a little longer time to get the decision right — engage the stakeholders, understand the real issue and develop fresh options — which will yield quicker implementation. People will share ownership, learning and solutions. They will be a stronger learning organization to tackle the challenges ahead. They will be more effective implementers.