Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 15;   April 10, 2002: How We Avoid Making Decisions

How We Avoid Making Decisions

by

When an important item remains on our To-Do list for a long time, it's possible that we've found ways to avoid facing it. Some of the ways we do this are so clever that we may be unaware of them. Here's a collection of techniques we use to avoid engaging difficult problems.

Most managers face an array of undecided questions. Many issues have been open for months or years, and some have been "put to bed" repeatedly only to reawaken every time. Maintaining a heavy backlog of undecided issues requires great skill.

Here's a collection of techniques we use either to avoid engaging difficult problems, or to make such poor decisions that the issues never go away.

Maintaining a heavy
backlog of undecided
issues requires great skill
Hurrying Past the Problem
Don't waste time defining the problem. Turn over no rocks — you might find a problem that's even more difficult to deal with than the one you have.
The Infinite Loop
If you can't keep the issue off the agenda, you can still avoid a decision by keeping the issue on the agenda for as long as possible. Just dither, and dither, and never decide. Discuss it endlessly.
The Detour
Detour SignAfter you engage the issue, develop a need for more information, advice, or resources. Delay making a decision until you've met that need.
The High or Low Priority Interrupt
You finally get down to deciding something, and suddenly up pops an emergency so urgent that you have to drop what you're doing. If there are no emergencies, decide that this issue isn't pressing enough to deal with right now. Of course, it's all a ruse — you wanted to drop what you were doing.
The Deflection
You set out to make a decision on one issue, but another issue comes up. It takes logical precedence over the original issue, and you turn your attention to it. You forget the original issue, at least temporarily.
The Tunnel Vision Technique
You know what answer you want, and you take the most direct path to get there, independent of the true nature of the issue.
Embarrassment Insurance
If you're afraid that something embarrassing might be uncovered by a study, guide the process away from that embarrassment, and come to a conclusion as soon as possible.
Avoiding the Undesirable
To avoid politically undesirable approaches, exclude anyone or any topic that might lead to an open discussion of those approaches.
Ground Hog Day
Named for the film — make the decision, but before you implement it, open the issue again, and return to the beginning.
Waiting for the Lone Ranger
A search is underway for someone to fill a position that's logically responsible for this issue. It wouldn't be right to make a decision now, we'd be infringing.
Death by Inaction
When you've been unable to prevent a decision, you can still nullify it by undermining the implementation. It's almost as good as if you hadn't made the decision at all.

To limit these behaviors, first talk about them, and then track how often they occur. Giving them names helps us see what we're doing "in the moment." Knowing the trends in frequency of use of these ploys helps you limit their use.

Changing your decision-making pattern is tricky. Before you can control it, you must first decide to control it. Go to top Top  Next issue: The True Costs of Cubicles  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenOxDVjnjdKYjbFXeEner@ChacGCSVUVGfNgTkfSPBoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of VirginiaThe Shower Effect: Sudden Insights
Ever have a brilliant insight, a forehead-slapping moment? You think, "Now I get it!" or "Why didn't I think of this before?" What causes these moments? How can we make them happen sooner?
A cup of coffeeHow to Procrastinate
You probably know many techniques for procrastinating, and use them regularly, but vociferously deny doing so. That's what makes this such a delicate subject that I've been delaying writing this article. Well, those days are over.
Christ's Indian PaintbrushFour Popular Ways to Mismanage Layoffs: Part I
When layoffs are necessary, the problems they are meant to address are sometimes exacerbated by mismanagement of the layoff itself. Here is Part I of a discussion of four common patterns of mismanagement, and some suggestions for those managers and other employees who recognize the patterns in their own companies.
Lake Chaubunagungamaug signDeciding to Change: Trusting
When organizations change by choice, people who are included in the decision process understand the issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But not everyone is included in the process. What about those who are excluded?
Melrose Diner, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: Part II
Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Cherry blossoms, some open some closedComing August 31: Contributions, Open and Closed
We can classify contributions to discussions according to the likelihood that they stimulate new thought. The more open they are, the more they stimulate new thought. How can we encourage open contributions? Available here and by RSS on August 31.
A forest fireAnd on September 7: Cultural Indicators of Political Risk
Because of fire risk, hiking in dry forests during dry seasons can be dangerous. In the forest, we stay safe from fire if we attend to the indicators of fire risk. In the workplace, do you know the indicators of political risk? Available here and by RSS on September 7.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenWBQNLwiSRbGDYhrYner@ChacfviYPtgLcNVscONaoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Sudoku Solutions, INK: A Simulation of a Project-Oriented Organization
In thCross-Functional Teams: How Organizations Actually Workis workshop, we simulate a company that solves Sudoku puzzles for its customers. Each puzzle is a project, solved by a project team led by a project manager. Team members hail from different parts of the organization, such as QA or the Department of Threes. Puzzles have different values, and the company must strive to meet revenue goals. The metaphor is uncanny. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Leading Virtual Meetings for Real Results
LeadiLeading Virtual Meetings for Real Resultsng or participating in virtual meetings — teleconferences, Web conferences, video conferences, and more — is challenging. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, distractions, politics, and interpersonal conflict all thrive in the typical environment of the virtual team. We'll inventory the challenges virtual meeting leaders and participants face, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees will learn concrete techniques for preventing and dealing with the problems that arise in virtual meetings. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsLearn how to spot troubled projects before they get out of control.
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive Package of All Ebooks and Tips BooksSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Comprehensive Package of All Ebooks and Tips BooksSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.