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  • Paul Hollywell

Decisions ... Decisions ...

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

Successful Thinking depends on the quality of the decisions we make. But making decisions is difficult, especially when they could have a significant impact on our life.


One way to help with our decision-making ...

One way to improve the quality of our decisions is to recognise some of the traps we can unintentionally fall into.


Here are some of the most common ones. See how many you recognise from your own experience.


· ‘Anchoring’ trap – giving too much importance to the first piece of information we receive

· ‘Sunk-cost’ trap – justifying our past, possibly flawed choices (e.g. unrecoverable money and time invested)

· ‘Confirming-evidence’ trap – seeking information that supports our viewpoint

· ‘Status quo’ trap – favouring a continuation of the existing situation

· ‘Framing’ trap – looking at something in a way that significantly influences our choice

· ‘Overconfidence’ trap – being too sure of ourselves

· ‘Recallability’ trap – giving too much importance to what we can remember

· ‘Base-rate’ trap – relying on certain specifics and ignoring what the statistics say

· ‘Outguessing randomness’ trap – seeing patterns where none exist

· ‘Surprised by surprises’ trap – denying that apparently unlikely events may just be random

· ‘Conformity’ trap – following the crowd (i.e. ‘groupthink’ or the ‘herd instinct’)

· ‘Prudence’ trap – being overly cautious leading to an accumulation of ‘safety margins’

· ‘Superiority’ trap – having a greatly inflated view of ourselves, and our skills and capabilities.

When people in groups try to make decisions, as happens in work meetings, we can see the potential for the above traps, plus the ‘Order of speaking’ trap which is summarised as follows:

· The order in which people speak significantly effects the course of a discussion

· The order in which people speak is often dictated by status. Even when higher-status people don’t really know what they are talking about, they are more likely to speak than lower-status people

· Early comments are more influential as they provide a framework for the discussion

· Once that framework is in place it can be difficult for a dissenter to break it down

· There is no clear correlation between talkativeness and expertise.


By recognising our common decision-making traps and becoming aware of when we are just about to fall into one can, over time, improve the quality of our choices. If we find this type of self-awareness difficult then having a coach guide and challenge your thinking can greatly improve how you go about making decisions and the resulting outcomes.


We need to acknowledge that we have inherent psychological mechanisms that often undermine our best effort to make good decisions as individuals or within a group. If we believe this doesn’t apply to us … then that’s just one more trap we can add to the list!


[For more information about these traps and what can be done about them read ‘Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions’ by Hammond, Keeney and Raiffa, 1998]

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