As information is gathered and decisions are being made, we must be aware of decision-making traps and avoid as many as possible. Here are 10 traps that you may encounter:
When we go on fishing expeditions (trying to get information without revealing its purpose), we may very well get the right answer to the wrong question. If we ask the experts and they don’t know, they may not admit it. Then we can become the victims of a snow job, or find that the blind are leading the blind.
There is also danger of making a decision based on too small a sampling. You may ask three people about when they want the Christmas party and get every one of them to agree on the same date. But it would be dangerous to go ahead with that date based on such a small sampling if it is not adequate and representative. Perhaps that is also the night of the Kiwanis Christmas party, of which several employees are members, or perhaps it is a Tuesday and many of the employees go bowling that evening.
We are all guilty of some bias. Every moment we have lived and everything we have ever experienced has in some way contributed to our own biases. These biases will be reflected in our actions and our opinions. Usually it is enough to know that we each have biases and to adjust our thinking accordingly. However, remember that people with a clearly defined bias will be representative of others similarly inclined.
The ubiquitous “average” can be deceiving. The arithmetical average can be a long way from the figure in the middle, or the median. Averages can also bury extremes: a man can drown in a stream of water that averages two feet deep if he just happens to fall into the one spot in its entire length where it is 50 feet deep. The average time it takes my brother to drive from Boston to New York would be deceptive for the average driver, since my brother often drives at excessive speeds.
Selectivity is another danger signal. When we throw out unfavorable results and embrace unacceptable ones, the results are ambiguous to say the least. We have to demand all the facts, not just those that have been swept under the rug.
We mustn’t correlate the frequent with the normal. If a particular study of the infant population indicates the average age at which a child sits up is six months and your child has a particularly round bottom and doesn’t sit up until eight months, that doesn’t necessarily make him slow.
Here’s another example: we have been told that cannibalism is frequent among certain populations. However, whether it is “normal” is best left to the anthropologists, whether it is “right” can be left to the theologians, and whether it is “good” will probably depend on whether you are the eater or the eaten.
We should never forget that facts and information are always open to interpretation. Remember the old adage that figures lie and liars figure. We must be careful that someone isn’t using facts to distort the truth rather than to enlighten. We also have to ensure that we aren’t finding convenient statistics simply to support our own position. When a person has information, they are obliged to present it as clearly as possible so others will not misunderstand. However, we can never entirely eliminate the danger of misinterpretation.
Here’s an example: A man was being interviewed for a management position, and as it came to an end he was asked what he felt made him stand out from other candidates. He responded that he was a “thoughtful” man. The selection committee thought he was referring to his gentlemanly behavior: opening doors for older people, remembering birthdays, and the like.
A few months later he met one of the people who sat on the interview panel and the disappointed candidate asked why he’s been overlooked. The man told him that “thoughtful” had weighed heavily against him. The man then explained he’d meant he gave a great deal of thought to the decisions he was required to make. The misinterpretation cost him a job.
Jumping to Conclusions
This is a trap you set for yourself, and nobody has to spring it for you. Make sure that you are using the skills you have to consider things thoroughly instead of heading for an easy answer.
The Meaningless Difference
“Sell the sizzle, not the steak,” says that when all things are equal (10 neighborhood restaurants sell a decent steak), then it’s the atmosphere, the service, the side dishes, and all the extras that make us select one eating establishment over another. Make sure that when you need to make a decision about the steak, you are considering the steak itself and not the sizzle.
It is natural to draw out all the meaning in a remark, but our emotional state may determine our connotation. Connotation, emotional content, or implications can all be added to an explicit literal meaning. When we are making good decisions, we need to base them on fact rather than our emotions about something, as difficult as that can be.
Status can limit communication in ways we never intended. This is a barrier between supervisor and employee, committee member and chairperson, and so on. Status can interfere with communication in either direction, with fear of disapproval on one hand or loss of prestige (or job, or position) on the other.
Decision Wheel Method
The decision wheel is a formal process that can be applied to guide your thinking through the process of problem clarification to allow you to make a decision.
When you have an important decision to make, start by stating the problem in the hub of the wheel. Next, move through the choices, one by one. End with your decision.