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Decision Making Trap #1

English: A plain glazed donut. This was bought...

Was eating a doughnut the best decision I could have made this morning? Yes, yes it was.

I have worked with a lot of managers over the years in an attempt to help them improve their decision making skills.  It is a difficult skill to help someone develop, especially if it is someone that you may not have contact with on a daily basis.  I am not going to let that fact deter me.  Today, we are going to improve your decision making skills. 

I think that most people are capable of making good decisions, but there are a number of decision making traps that can that can influence us to make a choice that we would not ordinarily make.  Understanding the biases that we may be guilty of is the first step in becoming a better decision maker.  While there are a number of decision making traps, for the purposes of this post we will focus on just one but I promise that I will touch upon some of the others at a later date.

A decision making trap that just about all of us fall into is the confirming evidence trap.  When faced with a difficult decision, especially a decision that we will have to justify to others, we tend to seek out evidence that will support the decision that we want to make.  If we come across evidence that does not support our desired decision, then we dismiss is or we rationalize why the evidence should not be weighted as much as other evidence that supports our desired decision.

Let me give you an example.  Suppose I want to lose a few pounds and I need to make a decision on the best course of action that will help me accomplish this goal.  I think we can all agree that diet and exercise are the keys to losing weight, but let’s suppose I am not a big fan of exercise.  As I go to do my research on how to lose weight, maybe I search the term ‘Losing weight without exercise.’  My choice of search term has already significantly impacted the information that I am going to use to make my decision.  Even if I use a truly objective term, my desired choice is still going to influence the outcome.  If I really am against exercising, then I am going to gravitate to data like this:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1914974,00.html

This article is from Time magazine so it must be credible.  I would certainly want to heavily weigh this article in any decision I will make.  I would also likely dismiss article such as this:

http://www.prevention.com/weight-loss/weight-loss-tips/weight-loss-how-lose-weight-without-dieting

When I am conducting my research with a bias, whether that bias is conscious or unconscious, then the outcome is almost guaranteed.  There is so much data at our fingertips now; we can easily pull up evidence to support any decision good or bad.

So what can you do to avoid falling into the confirming evidence trap?  First, try to be aware of any biases you have.  I think when pressed, most people are aware of their biases.  Just acknowledging that you have biases will help you to make better decisions. 

The second thing you can do is to run the logic that you are using to make your decision by someone that you trust and ask for their honest feedback.  I am blessed with a few people that fill this role for me, and quite frankly I would be lost without them.  I am very passionate about what I do, and sometimes that passion can lead me astray.  It is a great benefit to have intelligent people that will happily point out any flaw in my logic. 

I know I am guilty of falling victim to the confirming evidence trap, but what about you?  Do you think you are capable of seeking out evidence that supports your position while dismissing evidence that might be contrary to what you want to do?  How do you know that you are objectively making decisions?


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