Is everyone thinking rationally?


A story in today’s Wall Street Journal really struck me.   It’s an interview with Tom Davenport, co-author of a book on strategy and decisions.  He talks about three steps to make better decisions (good stuff) and three decision-making mistakes (even better stuff).

To me, the real “aha!” idea is this one:

“Another mistake would be to assume that everybody is thinking rationally. People are often irrational about decision issues in a whole variety of ways. One is they are overly influenced by any numbers that they previously heard or any statement of the problem – the so-called anchoring effect.”

I see this all the time, in myself and in others.  The emotional factors in making a decision can overtake the rational in a heartbeat.  The more important the decision is, the more likely this is to occur.  We don’t see it coming — and quite often don’t even recognize it has happened.  But it can derail decision making, or even lead us to the wrong decision.

When an important decision is on the table, I’ve been trying to follow these guides:

  1. Take your time.  Lately I’ve recognized that, while my instincts are often right, many decisions benefit from a longer thought process.  Just letting something important roll around in my brain for a few days gives me the freedom to develop and consider options.  New strategies or better solutions can occur in the shower…in the car…at yoga practice.  Patience (something I’ve been trying to develop for as long as I can remember) really does pay.
  2. Try some of the techniques from one of my favorite resources, Crucial ConversationsThis book teaches how to deal with high-stakes conversations when the stakes are high, opinions differ, and emotions are strong.  Some of the ideas taught here — including how to recognize when emotions are derailing a conversation, and bring it back to the facts at hand — are invaluable in decision-making processes.  One key is to make sure everyone involved knows how  the decision is going to be made –  command, consult, vote, or consensus.  Nothing’s more frustrating than believing your vote counts and finding out that it doesn’t.

How do you make decisions?  What tips do you have for better decision-making, whether individually or in a team situation?  Join the discussion!

Janet Altman is a Marketing Principal at Kaufman Rossin, one of the Top 100 CPA and advisory firms in the U.S.

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