“Life is the sum of all your choices.” – Albert Camus (1913 – 1960), French Author
And many choices we make. Some experts calculate that most adults make 35,000 decisions each and every day. As Albert Camus suggests, decisions are probably the single most influential factor in individual and organizational success – whether they be our own decisions or the decisions of others – our CEO, manager, customers, friends and family. So, what do we know about decision making?
Early in the 1900s, Katherine Briggs noticed that her neighbors approached decision making from two very different perspectives. Some approached making decisions objectively, applying logic and reason to the decision based on good data (Thinking types – T). Others focused more on values and people, and made decisions based on how the consequences affected others (Feeling types – F). This dichotomy accounted for the third letter type in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Introduction to Type and Organizations, CPP, 1998). Even if you’ve never taken the tool, I bet you can quickly guess your preference from the descriptions below:
While Thinking types prefer to follow a logical and rational model of decision making adhering to protocols and established policies, Feeling types prefer to look at each decision individually and subjectively. Feeling types are more likely to “break” the rules when it interferes with a given value or results in having a negative impact on the people involved.
Going further, Thinking types are best known for their cause-and-effect reasoning and their ability to apply science, data and fairness to a decision. They prefer to be “right,” rather than “liked,” and enjoy debating the facts and figures. On the other hand, Feeling types delve into a decision and evaluate its effectiveness by whether it creates harmony and improves the relationships and/or supports their values.
So we can see where in group decision making, these differences often result in conflict. Agreed-upon (consensus) decisions can become harder to reach. As well, support for outside decisions can be more difficult to attain. However, (1) these are preferences and each person can become more skilled at understanding the other perspective, and (2) both perspectives are valued and needed to make the best decisions.
So, as a manager, I can, first, recognize my own preference, either through taking the tool or simply looking at my past experiences. Secondly, with this knowledge, I can extrapolate my strengths, and become aware of my own biases or areas of blindness. The same is true for teams. For example, a team that is made up of primarily “T” decision-makers might make a logical and rationale cost-cutting decision that attains the goal of lowering expenses, but could neglect to take into consideration the effect that the decision might have on motivation or appreciation for the effort of its employees. On the flip side, I worked with one “F” decision maker who got reprimanded because of a poor decision. Even though it was clear that he had “broken the rules,” it was a struggle for him to see the error. He felt that this situation should have been an exception to the rule because adhering to the strictness of the rules would have had a negative effect on someone he cared about. Also, it violated his sense of fairness.
As managers, how do we help our staff to use both perspectives to make good decisions? One way would be to marry the best of both worlds – an effective decision making process with our understanding of the two different approaches. So, let’s see if we can apply to the first few steps of a model such as the 4-Step Universal Decision Process:
Step One: Setting Up the Decision
Here we ask for a proposal or an option from the people in the meeting. (For example: Do we want to decide to do A or B? Ted, would you make a proposal to either do A or B? We also ask: are there any important criteria to keep in mind when we’re deciding (e.g. control, difficulty, time, cost, resources, risk, importance, return on investment); how do we want to decide; and what is our fallback position?
If we look at our two types of decision-makers, it becomes apparent that each one would find value in very different criteria. Our Thinking decision maker might choose criteria such as: accomplishes the goal, ease of implementation, has all information needed, positive impact on productivity/efficiency, cost/return ratio is good and supports/improves quality. Our Feeling decision maker would most likely focus on other criteria, such as: compatible with company vision, supports quality service culture, high positive impact on employees or customers, provides flexibility and adaptability, upper management support, able to reach consensus and strong participation in development.
So, from the get-go, we want to value each perspective in our decision-making process by including elements from both as criteria. We also need to consider that these types might approach who makes the decision differently. Because Feeling types are focused on inclusion and collaboration, they are more likely to stress a “consensus” or participatory decision making process, while Thinking types might be more likely to agree to whatever decision making method gets to the right answer. Thinking types might have more difficulty with a consensus decision if they feel it waters down the decision or results in a less than correct solution.
Step Two: Discussing
Here we discuss the proposal to make sure we have gathered our data, surfaced concerns, and tested our assumptions. We evaluate each proposal and eliminate or reduce our concerns. Sometimes this section requires us to compromise or consider alternatives and modifications. It’s important to stay open-minded and ask lots of questions (Inquiry) before taking a firm position (Advocacy).
Even though our Thinking types believe that they are using a rational process to make decisions, neuroscience research in the 1990s suggests that the amygdala (emotional center of the brain) is the receptor for all stimuli that comes into the brain. In fact, according to Russell H. Granger, in his book, The 7 Triggers to Yes, the amygdala acts as the “gatekeeper” for the brain. It has the option of making its own decisions based on emotions or passing information on to the cerebral cortex for a review by the rational, thinking part of the brain. Often, decisions are made by the amygdala in an automatic response (which might account for the large number of daily decisions), and then interpreted as if they were made in a rational process.
Granger suggests that if you want to present a solution or proposal, you are best to appeal to the emotional center of the brain, not try to influence with logic and reason. This might require a different approach for our Thinking types. Furthermore, if your team is having difficulty reaching decisions, the culprit may reside with the emotional responses they create, rather than any logical disagreements.
Feeling types may unknowingly gravitate to these triggers, while Thinking types may have to consciously consider them. He suggests that there are 7 triggers that work most effectively in gaining agreement and ones we might want to explore in this step of our decision making process:
1. The Friendship Trigger: In my communications training, I often say, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.” This trigger embodies just that concept. It suggests that in presenting ideas to others, it may be just as important to create positive feelings in others when you present the idea as the content of the idea itself. Friendship, or liking, is a prerequisite for most other triggers to be effective. It speaks to your likability, trust, similar interests or goals, dependability, fairness, compatibility, cooperation, teamwork and collaboration. If you are well-liked and trusted, you may find that your ideas are given stronger consideration, than if you aren’t.
2. The Authority Trigger: Granger again suggests that when presenting solutions, others will be influenced by your authority, credibility and expertise. Your ability to establish yourself as an authority could quickly and automatically trigger agreement from others. Extraverts may have an easier time with this trigger as it requires them to talk confidently about their accomplishments, awards, education, competence and publications.
3. The Consistency Trigger: Each decision we make has some similarity to a decision in the past. If the current proposal has a positive connection to a successful, past decision, we are more likely to accept and support it. Don’t forget: perceptions are more important that reality. Thinking types are better off to accept the perceptions that people have of the past decision, rather than trying to argue the reality of the result of the decision.
4. The Reciprocity Trigger: This trigger feeds into our sense of give and take. When we give something, the other person is willing to give back. When you are presenting a solution, being willing to alter or change some aspect may create a psychological debt that aids in ultimately reaching agreement. Feeling types may be more willing to give something up to create harmony.
5. The Contrast Trigger: Used most commonly with Thinking types when they create a “pros” and “cons” list, this trigger asks you to frame your proposal in a way that shows its comparison in terms of factors such as: cost, time, energy, resources, and personal effort. This feeds into our brains’ natural tendency to respond in a relative way. This supports our premise that logic and reason can play a less important role to comparisons and perceptions. A weather example came to mind for me: today it is sunny and 46°F here in Vermont, while the past few days, it has been snowy and much colder. I heard comments like, “You’ve got to get outside today; it so warm.” I readily agreed. In contrast, if it was a day like today in the summertime or in different climate, we’d be complaining of how cold it is outside! I guess the saying, “It’s all relative” does hold true here.
6. The Reason Why Trigger: Another good trigger for our Thinking types. Applying a “good reason to do what you are proposing” can convince our amygdala to shortcut the heavy thinking and make a quicker decision. Some good reasons include: how quickly something needs to get done or the opportunity to take advantage of some event that is happening. Feeling types would do well to consider more objective, “good reasons,” especially when presenting ideas to Thinking types.
7. The Hope Trigger: When faced with introducing a decision that others don’t have any control over, managers might do well to frame the decision around something that will help their staff realize a hope or a dream. Some areas to consider for this trigger include: happiness, more time, health, independence, goals and ambitions, fears (what we want not to happen) and success. Again, appealing to our emotional center with a positive outcome will lower resistance.
I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on your own decision making process and building awareness of your emotional responses. You can download our free “poster” of the complete decision making process (including Steps 3 and 4) and the Agreement Cycle.
Whatever your type and process, this quote stuck in my mind as I contemplated decision making:
“In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
– Theodore Roosevelt (1854 – 1919), 26th President of the United States