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Decision Making Challenges

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The tools you will use to make your decisions helps you discover the rightest solution for your situation. We don’t use the word ‘best’ or even ‘better’ when talking about making decisions because that triggers your stress response for fear of being wrong. When you think in terms of the criteria you set up to meet (most effective, profitable, easy, creative, etc.) then there is no ‘best’ or ‘better’ decision, only one that is more right.

The one factor you cannot get away from during the decision making process is our own human fallibility. That’s right, no matter the effort you put into your process there is always the element of our human condition that blurs lines and influences directions. It is the bias of everyone touching and interacting within the decision making process that can derail landing on the right decision to selecting a bad one.

Bias shows up in decision making in several forms.

  • Framing– how you present the decision; can include personal slants and subtle guidance towards a particular direction. Example: you are the sales manager presenting the options of hiring 2 more people for the department you manage and control or a trainer that will work in another department and you will need to share with the marketing team.
  • Assumptions– these are our judgments, stereotypes, and other faults in logic of our belief systems that cloud our decisions. Example: you hire 2 more salespeople instead of trainers and investing in the sales team you currently have with the belief that more salespeople will simply sell more.
  • Overconfidence– when you think you’ve done enough but when tested you perform below expectations. Example: you study for an exam and do great when you question yourself at home, but your results show you underperformed and didn’t know as much as you thought.
  • Belief perseverance– when you have the strong (stubborn) belief that you are correct, even when shown facts that contradict your belief. Example: you believe in a political candidate so strongly that even when presented facts and concrete evidence you rationalize it away and continue to believe your point of view.
  • Confirmation– actively seek out information that supports and validates your own viewpoint while not being challenged from other perspectives. Example: you only follow social media outlets and news media that support your political candidate

Some decision making models help remove the biases, such as Vroom-Yetton Model or the Rational Model, from the beginning. Then there are ways to audit for bias after a decision is made and prior to implementation.

The first theory we want to introduce to you is called the Ladder of Influence. This was originally created by Chris Argyris in 1970 but popularized by MIT professor Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization.

To get a good understanding of what the Ladder of Inference is, watch this 3-minute video by Ed Muzio, CEO of Group Harmonics. He does a great job illustrating and providing a visual about the Ladder of Inference. After you’re finished, come back and let’s talk about how to move down the ladder.

Simple and easy to understand, difficult enough to accomplish moving down the ladder in the moment. But this is where we want to focus on with the theory.

Ask yourself these types of Empowering Questions:

  • Taking Action – Why have I chosen this course of action? What reasons led to my actions? Were there other actions I chose to dismiss and should have considered more carefully?
  • Adopting Beliefs – What belief system am I coming from? What limiting beliefs could be holding me back? What belief led to this action? What facts and evidence support my belief?
  • Forming Conclusions – Where did my conclusions come from? What is the supporting evidence I gathered? How does my research and facts provide a 360-degree view of the situation?
  • Making Assumptions – Anything not supported by facts and evidence are assumptions so what assumptions am I making? What other realities am I ignoring, no matter how difficult they are to face?
  • Adding Meaning and Interpretation – What past experiences, biases, and beliefs am I assigning to this meaning? What filter am I seeing the information through?
  • Selecting Data – By what method did I choose the data? What is my hidden agenda? What data did I leave off and why?
  • Observing Data – If I got the behaviors recorded, what would I see versus what I think I saw? What could I document that others would agree?

And when you are a leader trying to unpack the decisions others made, you can ask the following questions:

  • Taking Action – Tell me more about the action you took. What were the costs of the action you described? What were the benefits? What led you to take that action?
  • Adopting Beliefs – What beliefs led you to make your decision? How are these beliefs serving you? What beliefs would serve you better?
  • Forming Conclusions – What conclusions did you draw and why? Tell me more about how you came to form those conclusions.
  • Making Assumptions – What assumptions are you making about the situation? What are you pretending not to see? I’m asking about your assumptions because…
  • Adding Meaning and Interpretation – What is the significance of that? How else could you interpret the facts you selected? How does this relate to previous experiences?
  • Selecting Data – What facts are you basing your decision on? What aren’t you including in your decision making? Help me understand how you selected X data over Y data. What data did you choose to opt-out?
  • Observing Data – How do you know this information is accurate? What did you actually observe? Does everyone agree on the data observed?

Here are some basic questions you can ask yourself to assess the ethics of a decision (Blanchard & Peale, 1988).

  • Is this decision fair?
  • Will I feel better or worse about myself after I make this decision?
  • Does this decision break any organizational rules?
  • Does this decision break any laws?
  • How would I feel if this decision was broadcast on the news?

Answering the right questions about your decisions will bring clarity to knowing exactly what you’re doing and where you’re going.

Key Takeaways

No matter the effort you put into your process, there is always the element of our human condition that blurs lines and influences directions. Bias shows up in decision making in several forms:
- Framing
- Assumptions
- Overconfidence
- Belief perseverance
- Confirmation
You can combat these biases by asking yourself empowing questions.

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