This is the second in a series of posts on how we make decisions, what causes some of our biases, and what we can do to make better choices. Click here to see the first article.
DON’T TRUST YOUR GUT
When you go out for dinner and have a delicious meal, it’s normal to feel satiated when you are done. But then the server comes by with the dessert menu and a tray of samples.
The double chocolate mousse cake looks absolutely divine and you decide, what the heck, let’s order one dessert with four forks for the table.
While your ‘gut’ thought this was a good idea, the next morning your brain is wondering why you consumed an extra 500 calories if you were already full (and that was only your share of the dessert!)
But there are more permanent consequences associated with making an impulsive decision. For example, did you know that tattoo removal is estimated to be a $75+ million a year business? About 25 percent of individuals who get a tattoo later regret it.
Potentially more damaging, is making a gut decision about marriage. In October, 1975, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were very much in love and got married. This was Taylor’s sixth marriage and Burton’s third. Given the data from their past experiences, this marriage represented a decision made on hope, not evidence. The marriage lasted ten months.
BOTTOM LINE: Guidance from your gut is not the same as wisdom.
WHAT ABOUT A LIST OF PROS AND CONS?
Creating a list of pros and cons is arguably one of the most popular techniques for making difficult decisions and the most likely approach if you are not going with your gut feeling.
This strategy dates back to 1772 when a colleague of Ben Franklin’s asked for his advice on a job opportunity. Franklin suggested that his friend fold a paper in half and create two columns to write out the pros and cons. He then proposed weighting each item in terms of importance and crossing off items of equal weight from each side until a decision was apparent. He called this “moral algebra.”
While this common-sense approach seems a rational way to make a decision, Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, argue that the last 40 years of research in psychology have identified a set of biases that make this a flawed process.
BOTTOM LINE: A list of pros and cons is likely to be influenced by unconscious bias.
According to the Heath brothers, there are four common errors in the decision-making process. Each of these can render a list of pros and cons ineffective when trying to make the best decision.
Narrow Framing - we don’t consider enough options. For example, a pro and con list is typically looking at a single choice rather than considering alternatives.
Confirmation Bias - as humans, our tendency is to seek out information that supports what we already believe. If you are tending towards the decision, you will unconsciously find more pros.
Short-Term Emotions - our feelings can impact our objectivity.
Overconfidence - the belief that we can accurately predict the future.
In the next part of the Decision-Making series….Strategies to address these four common pitfalls.
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