Are you, or your employees, stuck in the decision-making process?

This cracks me up.

Dodger is a big boy. He’s not gigantic, but he’s really too large to fit comfortably under this small table. However, he was in no way deterred, he was on a mission to retrieve a trapped toy, even though there were another dozen catnip-laced mice within easy reach. (Another lesson: what is important to you might not be important to someone else!) Making decisions depends on how much risk you see and how badly you want it.

A colleague and I were talking the other day about how frustrating it is when people don’t get back to you. Simple things, like scheduling a meeting or making a decision on who to involve on a project team.

In the beginning of our little pity party, we were not so tolerant, saying things like: “How hard is it to pick up the phone or send off a quick email to let us know?” But we quickly came around to this consensus: what looks like rude behavior (i.e. not responding) is often the result of a person being stuck in the decision-making process. For example, committing to a meeting could lead to some potential next step that might be overwhelming to that person. As a result of the meeting, perhaps they will be asked to consider more work, spend money, or change something in their routine that could be uncomfortable (even if it’s to their benefit).

What my friend and I had identified as a lack of follow-up is only the tip of the iceberg to hidden obstacles that a person is dealing with. That’s where things get tangled — and delayed. Instead of working through those issues, a person will do nothing. It seems easier. But it’s not the best way to proceed.

I believe that in any situation where there is lack of action, even in instances that seem so easy or simple, there is something deeper going on that prevents the next step.

It boils down to two things for me. First, people make decisions at different speeds. Some prefer to gather lots of data, build consensus, and reduce their risk. Others are shotgun decision-makers, moving ahead with whatever data they have, relishing in the risk involving, or at least not losing sleep over it. I was surprised when I found out where I fell on that spectrum, always imagining that I made decisions easily, quickly. That’s not exactly true. I like to think about things. Now that I know from an objective source about my natural, comfortable speed in making decisions, I can appreciate how that fits with the style of others I interact with.

The second aspect is the priority. If something is not meaningful to you, nor of any interest, then you will naturally let those decisions wait for another day. It may be important to someone else, but so what? It has to have some consequence (good or bad) to you in order to move you into action.

Here’s what to do if you, or your employee, gets stuck and can’t (or won’t) make a decision:

  • Recognize that you and another person might be processing the information at a different speed. Gain an awareness of where you’re at, where the other person is at, then discuss some medium ground, so you can find the right balance of moving ahead at a pace that works for both parties.
  • Understand the cause(s) of the delay. Once you identify the obstacle that is holding you back, you can deal with it. And trust me, it’s better to deal with the issue than just let it hang. It will free up your mental space to handle other situations more clearly.
  • Determine what are the pros and cons of moving ahead. If you were to go in one direction, what are the benefits and costs (financial and non-financial)? Similarly, what are the downsides? When you get a handle on this information, it’s easier to see the value in making a choice. Someone once gave me this wonderful piece of advice: when you are clear [about whatever the situation is], your choices become easy.

It’s common to get stuck. People are busy with a million things calling them to act. So we sometimes excuse our own behavior (“I just have too much to do”) or blame others (“she doesn’t care a bit about her job”). Neither party wins when things are at a standstill and it’s important to remember that doing nothing is not an acceptable resolution.

Managers and employees can work together to get unstuck. It’s a matter of making it a priority. In what ways do you get unstuck? Comment below or give me a shout. I’d love to hear from you! 

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  1. Joyce W. on January 9, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Hi Robin,

    Thanks for this great blog! It’s very timely as I need to finish up a free-lance project before I start a new job and have been putting it off because it’s very tedious. Just today I decided to make a list of the tasks I need to accomplish to finish the project; to “chunk it down” so to speak. This often gives me measurable goals and I love to cross things off my list! And by writing the tasks down rather than having them swirling around in my brain they seem much less daunting.

    I also have the saying “If it is to be, it’s up to me!” on a sticky note at the base of my laptop screen – this helps motivate me by realizing the work is only going to get done if I do it!

    Thanks again,
    Joyce W.

    • Robin on January 9, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      Joyce, these are excellent ideas. A list of discrete tasks is an ideal way to make progress — and understanding what is needed to move forward. That saying is wonderful, too. It puts responsibility where it really lies. Thank you SO much for sharing. And congratulations on your new job. Sending you much success, in the free-lance project as well as your new position!

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