Decision Error #2: “Irrationally escalating commitment to an initial course of action, even when it is no longer the most beneficial choice”

February 25th, 2015 by Peninsula Mediation

In November of 2015 we had so much dispute resolution work that an opportunity to present research on “Adapting a Brief Conflict Coaching Model to a Two Culture Workplace” at the International Communication Association annual meeting in Kyushu, Japan made both professional and economic sense. Who could say “no” to an opportunity like this?

I am a naturally decisive person. Sometimes this is helpful, for instance when a group of folks can’t decide where to dine. But other times I wish that I had taken at least a little more time before deciding, particularly in personal matters and relationships.

I’ve seen this decision error at play many times in workplace disputes. Leadership decides that a new personnel system will improve productivity and accountability. They make sweeping reform decisions before weighing in with all of the important stakeholders. Or like deciding to award a lowest bid contract for the computer system to run Healthcare.Gov only to learn that such an effort required serious expertise.

Decision Error #2 seems to be one of my personal foibles. Once made, I’ll stay committed to a decision long beyond its benefit. At some level I’m even aware of doing this, and yet I carry on. Intellectually I assess the flaw, but emotionally I keep going.

So, back to Japan in June of 2016. The logical decision I made to commit to the conference was sensible, even logical, in November of 2015. My employee and amazing adult daughter, Meredith, agreed to assist with the research and was excited about her first big international trip to Japan. And then I discovered that the accounting on a massive, complex project had been hopelessly mishandled at the same time that my mother in law was on hospice in our home and we had lost one of our major ADR contracts because none of the incumbents had been informed that it was being re-competed (oops….a little contracting error!).

I know that for me, my tendency toward optimism sometimes plays into this decision error. “Things” will get better. They always straighten out. Cash flow will improve. Instead of this brand of passive general optimism, I need to do the research so that I am optimistic about things that merit my optimism.

Why don’t we do the research? Sometimes I do, when I get really desperate. And I even enjoy doing research. Clearly this is an instance of making emotion-based decisions and not wanting the good feelings to be eroded by reason.

Yes, we went to Japan and it was amazing. Playing tour guide and sharing Tokyo, Kyoto, and Kyushu with loved ones will remain among my most cherished lifetime memories. Priceless.

Why do we remain committed to an initial course of action, even when it is no longer beneficial assumes a rational actor. One who values reason above feeling. I’ll admit that emotion was the ultimate driver for my ongoing commitment to a decision far beyond the benefits of logic. Ultimately, I’m glad that I did.

Next time I see a client hanging on to a less than optimal initial course of action, I’d best start thinking about what emotions are being served. A logical decision isn’t always better than an emotionally satisfying one, but a well reasoned and satisfying decision is the best of all.

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