Why can’t we decide?
I’ve asked myself this question at least a million times. We’ve been asked to reach a decision. We’ve discussed it. We’ve evaluated the proposals. We’ve taken a vote - with no clear consensus on what to do.
We discuss it some more. We investigate a few more options. We vote again - and still there’s no clear consenses on what to do.
This cycle can seem to repeat endlessly, and in many cases the more you cycle through the steps the further you seem to get from a decision.
It’s enough to make you scream.
Is there a solution to this problem? Are there methodologies and techniques that can help us avoid decision deadlocks?
I think there are, and I’d like to share them.
Often times decision deadlock begins at the beginning. When you bring a group together to make a decision you “get off on the wrong foot” which takes you down the path that leads to the dead end.
You can avoid this. It takes effort and discipline which you might feel are unwarranted, but if the decision is an important one then “it’s better to be safe than sorry”.
At the outset of every group decision you must think about the group.
Every member of the group has a different understanding of the situation. Every member has a different perspective and a different set of priorities.
If you don’t acknowledge and deal with these differences in perspectives and priorities from the outset, then those differences are more likely to grow and to harden as deliberations go forward.
Begin by ensuring that everyone has a shared understanding of why it is that they’re being asked to reach a decision.
Here’s a tip: Understanding is reached by encouraging questions.
You could jump right in and say something like: “Our competitor just lowered their price, and we need to figure out what to do about it” but I’d suggest the following instead: “Our competitor just lowered their price. What do we need to know in order to make a decision about how to respond?”
By asking the question “What do we need to know?” we’re giving the group the right assignment. They can’t figure out what to do without information, so get them immediately focused on what that information is.
Questions are a great way to get people to think rather than react.
The first question should always be “Why do we need to make a decision?” and you’re going to have to provide at least a partial answer to that question to get the group going.
The next question is usually “What do we need to know before we can decide?” and the group must supply those answers. By doing so the members of the group will begin to develop a shared understanding of what folks know, what folks don’t know, and what folks consider to be important.
I find it helpful to encourage folks to state what they need as Questions: “What questions do we need to ask before we can decide?” This may seem a bit contrived, but keeps folks thinking about Questions rather than jumping to thinking about answers.