Decision Dilemmas: How can we learn if we continue to judge?


In my work in helping clients deal with their decision dilemmas and interesting issue is one where range of choices includes ones that have significant adverse negative views about them. An article in 20 April, 2011 Vancouver Sun titled: “It’s time to take a new view of low voter turnouts”, by Craig McInnes, page B2 brought this issue to mind.

One of the more intriguing issues in many democratic countries is the trend to lower and lower voting participation rates. What I have found ironic is much of the commentary is “preachy”: “This pattern is wrong and it is the fault of someone and it also needs to be corrected”. Why? Because if people don’t exercise their voting mandate, democracy is jeopardized.

McInnes’s article is refreshing in that he stands back from the judgement and asks why it is happening and is it really a problem anyway? It is clear that he believes that making the effort to be an informed voter is important. He also concludes that we should seek to understand why rather than focus on how to make people exercise their franchise.

I am one of those who habitually votes. But I have no difficulty in accepting the fact that other citizens are not making the same choice. I can fully accept McInnes observation that: “I’m also just as happy that people who haven’t paid any attention to the issues or the campaign don’t vote.”

In the more general realm of decision making, we sometimes face dilemmas that are in substance parallel to our reactions to what other people do/do not do. We get stuck because we go beyond just understanding what they do to judging it as wrong. This leads to two basic risks:

  1. Our subsequent interactions with those who behave so “inappropriately” communicates our displeasure and shuts down any opportunity to better understand what, why and how it might be different (without the use of force – such as obligatory democratic voting [sic]). So we stay in a zone of ignorance and misunderstanding. We also communicate that we tolerate some forms of “diverse” legal/legitimate behaviour and not other. What are we really saying here? “To be supportive of democracy, you must vote!” Frees to choose must also include the option to not choose any of the presenting choices (except when it comes to politics?).
  2. We become unable to acknowledge the legitimacy of the behaviour/option and what it signals. When people don’t vote there is a palatable message there! However, if you react strongly to it, you have removed some of your capacity to hear it. Furthermore, to denigrate another position, is to choose not to question what you accept and hold dear as the one that would most benefit with  change. Strong emotional reactions can signal to us that must “stand firm” or, perhaps we might learn about a more beneficial position.

When helping clients deal with their decision dilemmas, I pay particular attention to those positions and options that evoke a strong emotional or value reaction. Understanding what value is at play and why it is so significant in the specific situation is very helpful in enabling the individual with the dilemma to move forward. What I have usually learned is that a particular value has taken fundamental ownership of the issue and precludes other values that the person holds to be reasonably considered.

I accept that people have the right to make choices based upon singular values. What I help them face though, is that there would be no dilemma unless one or more of their other values are in the background creating their conflict. This is what they need to work through and hopefully find a multiple value balance that enables them to move forward.

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About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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