It’s all in the name

Decision making tends to be a controversial business. Decisions themselves are often controversial – and that is before the outcome is known. Once we know what actually happened as a result of a decision, we tend to be even more judgemental. 

You can see what a subjective area it is from the adjectives used by commentators (often armchair critics) of other people’s decisions. Let’s divide them into four categories:

Approving of positive decision making

Disapproving of positive decision making

Approving of caution

Disapproving of caution

Here goes: 

Positive – yeah!

  • Brave
  • Courageous
  • Decisive
  • Strong
  • Daring
  • Bold
  • Fearless

Positive – whoa there!

  • Gung ho
  • Risky
  • Reckless
  • Aggressive
  • Irresponsible
  • Ill-advised
  • Hasty

Cautious – well done!

  • Responsible
  • Wise
  • Astute
  • Prudent
  • Sensible
  • Rational
  • Considered 

Cautious – get down off the fence

  • Conservative
  • Indecisive
  • Nervous
  • Risk averse
  • Weak
  • Timid
  • Irresolute 

See what I mean? The moment we comment on a decision or someone’s decision making ability we tend to go straight into a value judgement. This is particularly true of polarised groups: 

Old vs Young

Men vs Women

People on our side vs the Enemy (eg in politics)

Players/Fans vs Referees and Umpires

Them and us (all categories)

I think we need to develop a more neutral vocabulary to allow us to recognise good problem solving and decision making process. It’s not necessarily brave to accentuate the upside and ignore the downside. Equally it’s not a sign of weakness to consider the downside of an option before lurching into action. It’s balanced thinking to look before you leap, and to take a view on factors, both positive and negative. 

Sounds boring, I know. But isn’t that another value judgment!