How We Avoid Making Decisions
by Rick Brenner
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
- After 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. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness
- Keep a Not-To-Do List
- Unless you execute all your action items immediately, they probably end up on your To-Do list. Since they're a source of stress, you'll feel better if you can find a way to avoid acquiring them. Having a Not-To-Do list reminds you that some things are really not your problem.
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- Personal Trade Secrets
- Do you have some little secret tricks you use that make you and your team more effective? Do you wish you could know what secret tricks others have? Here's a way to share your secrets without risk.
- It's a Wonderful Day!
- Most knowledge workers are problem solvers. We work towards goals. We anticipate problems as best we can, and when problems appear, we solve them. But our focus on anticipating problems can become a problem in itself — at work and in Life.
- Fill in the Blanks
- When we conceal information about ourselves and our areas of responsibility, we make room for others to speculate. Speculation is rarely helpful. It's wise to fill in the blanks.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 28: The Limits of Status Reports: Part II
- We are not completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits. Available here and by RSS on January 28
- And on February 4: Bottlenecks: Part I
- Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs? Available here and by RSS on February 4
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