Thursday, April 25, 2019

Making Decisions

Think about the last time you made a major decision.

How long did you agonize over that decision?

Did you create lengthy advantage/disadvantage lists attempting to gain clarity?

Now remember when you asked your wise friend about what he or she would do. 

How quickly did they give you sound advice? Was that advice something you had already considered? Was it creative? Did they point out something you didn’t consider?

Now, remember the last time a good friend asked you for advice.

How quickly were you able to help them?

How creative were you when you helped your friend make a decision?

How confident did you feel about your advice to your friend?

Evan Polman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison confirmed in his research that we have a much easier time giving advice to others than we do deciding for ourselves.

“When people recommend what others should do, they come up with ideas and choices and solutions that are more optimistic and action-oriented, focus on more positive information and imagine more favorable consequences. Meanwhile, when making their own choices, people tend to envision everything that could go wrong, leading to doubt and second-guesses.”[1]

They didn’t uncover why we tend to be more conservative when we make choices for ourselves, but my experience is that as the decider – we are the ones who ultimately live with the consequences of the decision. The risks feel (and often are) greater.

As the advisor – we are detached from the risks and consequences of the decision. If our friend chooses one way or the other, the impact on us is often minimal compared to the impact on our friend.

Polman recommends viewing yourself in the third-person to gain some detachment from the decision-making process.[2]  This technique helps you view your situation and the decision differently.

Getting advice from friends who you know have your best interest at heart and whom you have respect for helps as well.  Asking friends helps you begin developing your support network around the change and provides information on how the change will impact them.

My experience has been that advice from friends that are directly impacted by your decision tends to be more conservative (and thoughtful) than advice from friends who aren’t impacted at all. They have skin in the game.[3]


[1] https://hbr.org/2018/11/why-its-easier-to-make-decisions-for-someone-else

[2] https://hbr.org/2018/11/why-its-easier-to-make-decisions-for-someone-else and https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167211398362

[3] Polman is not asking whether the impact of the decision on the individual plays a role in whether the response demonstrates a cautious mindset or an adventurous mindset. My suspicion, based on personal experience, is that the less the decision impacts an individual, the more likely they are going to demonstrate an adventurous mindset. I hope to see research asking this question – because it would have significant ramifications for how managers and leaders make decisions (or whether they SHOULD be the decision-makers in given contexts).

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