Just because someone’s on the fence doesn’t mean the fence is comfortable, says Davina Greene.
Will I or won’t I? Should I or shouldn’t I? Can’t I just get someone else to make the decision instead?
Every day, we have to make decisions, from tiny to giant. Some people find it easy, they barely realise they’re making a decision at all; some, however, find it cripplingly difficult to make an independent choice. For observers, it is all too easy to misunderstand their reasons and to become frustrated.
Inability, or unwillingness, to make decisions can be rooted in multiple areas. As a manager, parent, or friend – or whatever the situation – unearthing reasons can take a little time and effort. The person could have a natural tendency towards over-thinking, for starters. Those people who value detail may suffer what we call ‘analysis paralysis’, drowning in depth rather than making leaps forward, perhaps seeking the perfect answer. Poor time management, or lack of delegation, can leave minimal space for decision-making. Self-doubt can leave a person second-guessing themselves endlessly – a decision technically made, but never verbalised, endlessly internally tweaked. A conscientious person can hold fear of the impact of a bad decision, to varying levels of catastrophe.
And it doesn’t stop there…in this age of have-it-all entitlement, many people are simply reluctant to make trade-offs, desperately trying to find the path that allows all decisions to be made simultaneously and favourably. Many are afraid of annoying others and need consensus at the table, in the hope of pleasing all involved. There are plenty who hold a sense of ‘obedience’ to an authority figure, from their upbringing; the programmed ‘instruction-acceptors’ we’ve all encountered. Some people have been brought up to be over-polite, solo decisions now feeling somewhat ‘rude’.
Some people are given the wrong decisions to make – they may be put in a position of deciding something high-level and strategic, despite being unable (as yet) to think at that level, evaluating various outcomes. Many are too confident in their decision-making, and take excessive ownership of decisions, to the point where they forget, make poor ones, or even take excessive risk. Then, of course, there are the people who have a lack of perspective about all of the elements of a decision, or a general lack of care about whether the decision is correct or not. Then, of course, there are many of us to love to swoop in and “fix” things for other people, never letting them actually learn, never helping solve the bigger issue.
In workplaces that place great value on Learning – or when we, ourselves, invest in our own development through personalised coaching – we become aware of these angles and begin to appreciate where we fall on the scale, and why. It’s important that adults feel able to make the vast majority of decisions that fall to them in life. Sadly, some people can be left without this skill for too many years. So, whether it’s your work team, or outside of work, what can you do?
Firstly , note that stand-alone classes and books do very little to change actual behaviour in this regard. This area is tied, in a way, to bravery; it needs personal support. For formal learning, coaching is absolutely key.
Second, make sure that the person understands the strategy or principles within which they are expected to move forward. This introduces some safety-related boundaries, allowing people to know whether their decisions are heading in the right direction without constant reference to you.
Finally, make sure the person is clear on what they absolutely do not make a decision on alone. Again, this increases their sense of safety by drawing a line while permitting escalation. Above all, be patient and don’t be too dogged about what you think the decision should have been. As someone once said: Sometimes you make the right decision; sometimes you make the decision right. There’s very little in life that can’t be fixed, however important you believe it to be.
Remember, people avoid decisions for many reasons. Be kind, and try to investigate and understand – not assume.
Consider if you’re asking someone to make a decision in an area less suited to their experience – Strategy versus Detail, Process versus People, etc.
As much as Deciders need freedom, they need boundaries. Provide them.
Resist fixing everything for everyone; sit back and watch their thought process, in order to help. Think longer-term.
Use coaching to get real change!
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