When you MUST CHOOSE NOW and you feel pressured, many situations may look like either: You have NO CHOICE, or your choice is limited to YES or NO. Feeling pressured can interfere with our ability to think critically – blinding us to a broader range of viable alternatives.
There are some cases in which simply making a choice is more important than what is chosen. For instance, your spouse asks you to decide which vegetables you want for dinner, carrots or green beans. When timeliness is more important than the choice itself, decisions can be made quickly and arbitrarily. But, failure to discern the difference between this type of decision and those in which the results actually matter will lead to pain. When outcomes matter, a decision should be given the consideration it requires.
Believing there is “no choice” may be more a matter of feeling than an accurate assessment of reality. Clearly, there are some situations in which you have no choice. These do not require a decision, only action. (Get out of the way of the oncoming truck.)
Yes or No
Yes/No choices hold a certain appeal because they’re simple – having only two alternatives should mean an easier and quicker analysis – although, sometimes we don’t like either choice. Our experience has shown that “no choice” or “yes/no” situations should be examined carefully. The range of viable alternatives is usually much broader than we first believe. By asking the following question, new – and sometimes better – alternatives can be brought to light:
“What is the purpose of this decision?”
Creating better options
Whenever you’re faced with a decision (especially a “no choice” or a “yes/no” decision), take a few moments to identify the PURPOSE of the decision. With the purpose of the decision in mind, more alternatives may present themselves. It is usually immediately apparent or easy to evaluate which of these alternatives is best, based on their ability to accomplish your purpose.
A mundane example of “clarifying purpose”
Here’s a situation that a BPI Instructor shared with me.
She was in Portland Oregon to teach a Critical Thinking class for one of our clients. She had flown in the night before, but did not get access to the room to set up the day before, as planned. On the morning of the class as she was putting on makeup, she realized that she had forgotten her mascara. No problem, she thought, she’ll finish getting dressed, leave early and find a drugstore where she can pick some up.
As she is driving to the client’s facility, she can’t see any place that might have a drugstore, or even a grocery. She begins to get a little anxious, thinking ‘if I keep looking I may not get the room set up in time, or I will at least be rushed to get it done and not relaxed and at my best when the class is due to start.’ She keeps looking at the clock as she continues driving, getting more anxious, the further she gets from the facility.
And then, she stops the churning and thinks. “Hey, wait a minute, what about this stuff we teach?! What’s the purpose of buying the mascara? Well, it’s to do what I normally do to get dressed. When I don’t wear mascara I feel like my eyes are pale and think I look odd. If I feel like I look good, then I feel more confident, and then I’ll do my best possible teaching job. So the purpose is to do a good job teaching? Hmm, wait a minute, which is going to make me feel more comfortable – buy mascara, or get to the facility and be set up, relaxed and ready to teach?
Of course she stopped immediately and drove to the facility.
BPI has been teaching Systematic Decision Making for more than 30 years. Whether under pressure or in long term, strategic situations can your company benefit from making better and more timely decisions? Contact us for information about BPI’s Critical Thinking Workshops.