5 Weird Facts about Decision Making

One of the main areas that leaders and teams talk to us about is decision making. Occupational psychologists Brentfield Consultancy, who work extensively in the field of emotional intelligence, recently published their conclusions about decision making – and the results might surprise you.  In Brentfields view -

On the surface, decisions seem easy. You weigh your options, measure them against your goals and choose the option that’ll bring you the most benefits.

Of course, nothing’s that simple. People have different motivations, use different decision making frameworks and have different worldviews that shape the way their work with others. So, how do you make better decisions? How do you empower others to make decisions? What can you do to help teams to make better decision?  How do you influence a decision making process?

Here are 5 facts about decision-making that will help you with your decisions and help you shape others to make better decisions.

  1. Emotions always beat logic. 

Research has continually found that we use our emotions more than logic to make decisions. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio studied people who had brain damage in areas that deal with emotions and found that although the subjects could talk through the pro and cons of a decision they could not decide on a decision.

When helping people make decisions don’t get them to just think about the facts but get them to think about how they will feel when they make a particular decision and whether that emotion is stopping them making the best decision.

  1.  More is not always better

If you want to make decision easier don’t give people too many options. Sheena Lyenger a professor at Columbia Business School examined what stopped people making decisions.  She put two displays in a shop that either had 24 different types of jam or 6 types of jams.  The results showed while people stopped more at the 24 jam display then the 6 jam display, they were 6 times as many people who bought jam from the 6 jam display. 

To make decisions easier for people the quicker you can reduce their decision to 1 or 3 choices the easier they will find it to make a decision.

  1.  Complex decisions can be made easier

Despite the fact that most of us will not like too many options, life is not always that straight forward – some decisions require complex choices.  This is when many people suffer from information overload – where they just can’t process all the information to make the best decision.  In her follow up research Sheena Lyenger found that if complex choices are presented with the easier choice first we find it easier to make more complex decision. 

So deal with the least complex stuff first - for example when selling a car if you get people to focus on the 4 types of engine size first rather than the 40 different types of colours the car can be bought in, it  will result in more people sticking with the decision making process.

  1.  Decision making in the afternoon is hard

Most people get tired as the day goes on and the same is true when making decision. We all suffer from a phenomenon call decision fatigue. In other words the more tired you get the less likely you are to make good or difficult decisions.  A 2011 study, at Ben-Gurion University found that parole boards granted parole to about 70% of cases heard in the morning, but less than 10% of cases heard in the afternoon. This pattern held true regardless of the prisoners’ ethnic backgrounds, crimes, or initial sentences. As they got tired the board found it more difficult to consider every aspect of the cases and defaulted to the safe option.

The takeaway is if you or your team have a difficult decision to make consider it in the morning when people are at their freshest. 

  1.  Smaller Teams make better decisions

Research carried out by Princeton University in 2014 found that that a smaller a team is the more likely to make better decisions than a larger team. Team decisions are based on two types of information: Correlated (things accepted by or known to all members) and uncorrelated (facts perceived only by some group members). Both types of information are important, but the larger the team, the more likely it is that correlated information will outweigh uncorrelated information. 

Research therefore suggests the ideal size for a decision making teams (executive board, project teams) is between 7 and 9 people

So – reduce the options, start with the easy stuff, do it in the morning and keep the team small – and don’t forget our emotions are more important than our logic.  Happy decision making!