People Management

The secret to taking good decisions

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

What decision do you regret the most nowadays and wish you’ve chosen better? I’m not even asking you if there is one, because I already know the answer to that.

You may have encountered several people or guides telling you that whenever you are facing a decision, to consider what you win and lose, makes pro-s and con-s lists and ponder a lot on the minuses and pluses. That’s not a wrong advice per se, but I would rather call it a brainstorm or an analysis, which again, is more than welcome as long as you don’t run into overthinking. A time-boxed analysis that stays in the limits of due diligence is good. On the other hand I’ve made one of my biggest mistakes ever, taking a decision based on a pro-s and con-s list.

The problem with thinking about negative aspects or con-s is that we don’t stay rational or fact based. When you are thinking about what you could lose, your fears start to play out. Sales people know that. Advertisers know it in their sales campaigns.

“Not taking care of your …….. [fill in the blanks] can lead to serious health problems, including headaches, edema, heart attack and your head could explode”. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? You pull out a fear, slip in some familiar symptoms that most people can relate to (“hey, I already had headaches and swollen feet!”), then amplify it. In the end, offer the solution: “All this can be avoided if you buy X / do Y

Good, now you’re starting to see the mechanism. Spoiler alert: same technique is learned by salespeople, politicians and many others that have to influence a large audience. They all learn to point out the top 3 losses you will face if you don’t comply with the expected behaviour. The whole insurance system is based 200% on fears and obscure statistics.

We don’t like being played like that, but ironically, we’re doing the same thing to us: “Should I apply for that position?”. What do I win: I will be better paid, have a better status. What do I lose: all the comfort that I have now, but what if I’m incompetent and it will show, then they could demote me or even worse fire me and I have a familly to take care of, etc, etc (imagination goes wild from here onwards).

Other people might say to just follow your instinct – easier said than done and a bit too abstract. Our instinct may try to return us to familiar states and actually sabotage our efforts.

The simple method I would propose to you is to ask one very, very, simple question: “What do I win if do and what do I win if I don’t ?” Sounds a bit weird, but in most cases by choosing not to do something, you’re winning at least some free time and money in your pocket. You might also win some freedom of contract or other specific advantage. The power of this question is that it leaves out the fears. All those paranoid scenarios that might be crossing your mind, with no connection to reality.

If you’re a fan of analysis, you can still draw your charts and boards, make silly tables, with one difference: you focus only on the “plus” part. That doesn’t mean all the risk goes away and if you’re used to having risk-based approaches at work, your brain will struggle to understand this. Yes, companies play it safe, especially those listed on the stock market. But do you also know which team never wins a football game? The one that focuses on defending the gate, instead of attacking (it’s the favourite strategy of my national team).

Sometimes the answer to “what do I win if I don’t?” might be simply: nothing. Which is good, because then you have all the reasons to act.

I’m not going to lie to you: this approach takes you out of your comfort zone. It goes against the way you’ve been taught to act for decades, but the overall degree of satisfaction you’ll get is much higher.

Give it a try. What do you win if you don’t? Let us know in a comment how that went for you.

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