Decision making is hard! Making the right decision is even harder. When I look back at decisions I’ve made that haven’t served me well (i.e. time-tested and proven as wrong decisions), I’m surprised by the common patterns of thinking that exist across most of them. Whether it’s been staying in a relationship longer than was needed, not investing in a relationship that needed it, shipping a product that no one needed, not shipping a product that everyone needed, there’s a palpable theme.
Now that I’m aware of it, I see the theme all around me. The intention of today’s post is to state the obvious with the belief the recognizing the pattern is the first step to changing it. Changing the pattern implies you’ll make more right decisions than wrong ones.
Consensus versus Conviction
Often, we’re either making decisions with other people or our decisions impact other people. If we were Vulcan, this would not be a challenge. We would understand the choices based on facts and logic and make the optimal decision. However since we are not, we must acknowledge that our emotions (and others emotions) about a situation strongly impact the decisions we make. We may hold strong beliefs about what the right decision is (i.e. have conviction) but find ourselves trading that off with the need to collaborate and stay in rapport with others. In a perfect world, every decision making scenario would be in Zone A i.e. everyone agrees on the same strong conviction and that becomes the decision e.g. “We should definitely prioritize this business over that other business”, “We should definitely break-up now”, “This job is not right for you”. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. As you can imagine (and have probably experienced), two parties rarely have the same point of view about the same situation. Often their hopes/needs/wants/context/knowledge base/past experience are completely different from each other.
More often, we are faced with the choice to pick B, C or D. Depending on our personality type, we’ll either optimize for consensus (people) or the conviction of our beliefs. There isn’t a right answer here but I’ll state my point of view:
– If I am convicted about a path, I will pursue it (even if it means getting out of rapport and consensus with others). Here’s why. If my decision is wrong, I will learn from it and make a different decision next time. If my decision is right, I will trust myself more (which is what will give me the courage to make even bigger decisions with stronger conviction in the future), prove to others that I have strong judgment (and they’re more likely to follow me in the future), and of course the right decision has a pay-off of it’s own.
– If I’m not convicted about a path, I will remove myself from the decision making and let someone else make it. Clearly they have passion and therefore incentive to think about it broadly and deeply. I’m more than happy to follow them.
Speak your truth
I have found that conviction is necessary but not sufficient to make high-quality decisions. Courage is required; the courage to be the only person in the room willing to speak your truth (uncensored, unfiltered, undiluted) with clarity; the courage to stand firm by your conviction even when it’s emotionally difficult for others. In life and at work, I find people spending an inordinate amount of time wordsmithing their point of view (to the extent of obscurity) to avoid conflict. Unfortunately agreement-through-confusion/ambiguity is not a durable mechanism and only amplifies the emotional charge of the conflict that is inevitable in the future because the people involved are not on the same page. Speak your truth now, write it down, state it succinctly. If you see heads nodding after that, you have a durable decision.
Here’s the thing with courage – it’s often confused with belligerence. How do you know the difference? If you spend more time talking than listening, if you repeatedly re-state your point of view instead of asking questions to understand other perspectives and possible choices, you might want to evaluate if you’ve crossed the line from courage into belligerence. Internally, the drivers for courage and belligerence are completely different. People that exhibit courage don’t tie their identity and self-esteem with any one point of view. Their ultimate loyalty is to the best possible decision, which may or may not be their initial or original point of view. They know that they don’t know what they don’t know and are always curious about knowing more/learning more to continue to evolve and refine their perspective. Their inner monologue is loving and compassionate.
People that exhibit belligerence have a visceral need to always be right in the eyes of others. Their ultimate loyalty is to serving this need and not the quality of the decision being made. They don’t know that they don’t know what they don’t know 🙂 And they’re not curious about changing that. Their inner monologue is harsh and highly critical.
Ironically, courageous people have the potential to be right more often than belligerent ones.
Why make a choice when you don’t have to?
When we’re faced with a difficult decision, there’s a natural fear of making the wrong choice. Often, we choose to process this fear by rationalizing ourselves into believing that we don’t have to make the choice at all. We can have our cake and eat it too! Why end a relationship when you can stay in it and be checked out? Why quit a job when you can be in it and complaining or browsing the internet all day? Why pick between Idea One or Idea Two when theoretically you can do both? This is what I refer to as the AND mindset of decision making. Here’s the kicker. Lack of choice is a choice as well. And it is the worst possible choice. The only thing this decision optimizes for is Fear. People with courage acknowledge the fear, process it as a valid emotion and then leverage their reserve of conviction to make bold decisions. They know that the pay-off for the right decision is worth the fear. They also know that a bad decision is a learning moment and nothing more. It is not identity-shaking but just a natural part of evolution and learning.
In my most difficult decision moments, I wish I was Vulcan. I wish the people I worked with and related with were Vulcan. But then I’m reminded of the beauty of the human experience. Difficulty and discomfort is an integral part of it. As long as my north star is bright, my conviction is strong, my truth has been spoken, my curiosity to listen/learn/evolve my perspective and my commitment to making the right decision is there, I know the quality of my decisions will continue to get better and that’s the only durable way to serve myself and others in life.