About eighteen months ago, the husband and I had a slight contretemps! During a rather busy time for me he had arbitrary made a decision which affected both us, one which I did not agree with. In fact we had words – but my voice never rose above the decibel level of a pop concert!!

However, I made it quite clear that decision making by one in a partnership was not binding on both, unless both had a hand in its making! A point I felt was fair and equitable. He agreed in principle – and has seized upon that stand as a reason for not making any decisions at all now!!

“What do you want to do over the weekend?” is a simple question I feel, and not one to create dissention in the ranks! However the husband replied “Oh! I can’t make that decision!” That he did it with a twinkle in the eye did not make the issue any better!!

The husband and I had words over the breakfast table – and I think the issue is now seen in perspective!!!

The point of this story is that a lot can ride on the effect of decisions, and of course on the intention of a decision. Some are made for very pragmatic reasons, and other are made just on instinct. In some cases all the logic, all the statistics, all the facts and figures make little difference to the “gut feeling” that tells us to “do that”.

I believe that, knowingly or not, at the final phase, all decisions are made from emotion; rather than strictly logical and considered opinions. And while I have not yet finished the book, I believe that Max Bazerman from Boston University agrees with me. (Well he may not still be at Boston Wayne, but he was then!). In his book Judgment in Managerial Decision Making he says:

When people are called upon to make impartial judgements, those judgements are likely to be unconsciously and powerfully biased in a manner that is commensurate with the judge’s self-interest.”(1)

What that means, in simpler terms is that no-one will (usually) make a decision that is not in their own best interest. However – and I do think it needs to be clearly said, – decisions can be made that are impartial, and based on facts, but that it is very difficult for someone to do that if they are part of either the problem, or the proposed solution. The old saying is still philosophically correct – “Turkey’s will never vote for Christmas!”.

It is unrealistic to expect people closely involved in a decision to deliberately ignore their own self interest. What happens is that they will justify their preferred option by re-interpreting the facts to support them.

Bazerman recognises that fact when he goes on to say:

“Individuals first determine their preference for a certain outcome on the basis of self-interest and then justify this preference on the basis of fairness by changing the importance of attributes affecting what is fair.”

Which is what I said.

But -If making an impartial decision is not possible, then why do we have judges, magistrates and juries? Here we have a supposedly impartial arbiter of justice dispensing legal decisions untainted by bias. Do you really believe that?

I doubt it is possible. And I mean that quite seriously, before any one jumps on me from a great height. I doubt it is possible because we are human and with all the best will in the world we are going to bring in our own personal opinions of what constitutes fairness to any decision we make.

If you are engaged in any transaction based on law in a court or a tribunal, then you will

know that regardless of the requirement for impartiality on the bench, the personality of the judge or the magistrate or the senior member will have an affect on the way in which you present your information.

This is not to say that the decision will not be made in accordance with the law – that it will not be carefully considered and evidence will not be duly weighed and the criteria applied. I am just saying that we all, whether we admit it or not, tend to have our own preference in the way in which some things can be interpreted. And application of the law depends on someone’s interpretation and sometimes not everyone is in agreement.

High Court decisions are handed down to act as precedents – and yet we might find that one or maybe two have disagreed with the final judgement. Which is why the custom is for a decision to be the majority opinion – except in some jury systems – but that’s another story!!

So what to do? Well I have considered a few of the decisions I have made over the last week or two and I have to confess that in most cases I chose an outcome that I am happy to live with. And I must also confess that when the husband has not been in total agreement with me I have done my best to persuade him to my wiser preferred option! Which I suppose is not really fair – practical, yes – fair – er no!

So – I am going to finish Max Bazerman’s book – for he tells me he can teach me to make a decision without my personal little preferences and biases clouding my judgement. And that I have got to know – otherwise we may be having a few more little contretemps over the breakfast table!

Michele @ Trischel
Chastened and humbled – but only a little!

(1) Max Bazerman, Judgement in Managerial Decision Making, John Wiley & Sons, USA, 1998

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This