Published April 01, 2013
Even the best-laid plans have their flaws.
We can spend months planning out a decision, reviewing possible outcomes and preparing for any consequences, but we live in a fast-paced world where keeping focused is nearly impossible. We are surrounded by forces that influence our decision making and the only way to combat them is to be aware of them.
To get tips on how to stay focused during the decision-making process in our world full of distraction, I spoke with Francesca Gino, author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan.
Gino says that when it comes to making good decisions, there is often a “mismatch between intentions and outcomes.” You can have a thoughtful plan, but when it comes to execution we tend to fall prey to the numerous influencers ever present around us.
Gino categorizes these influencers into three types of forces: those from within, those from relationships and those from the outside.
Influencer No.1: Forces From Within
Research has demonstrated that we tend to have an overly optimistic view of our own abilities, which can lead to overconfidence in how we come to our decisions. Gino points out that we need to be aware of this tendency, particularly when it comes to negotiating.
In preparing for negotiations, we tend to favor preparing for the more mechanical contingencies as opposed to the emotional ones. In other words, we draft our different options and then rely on the belief that we will be able to control our state of mind with minimal effort during the live negotiations. However, Gino notes that it’s not uncommon to react emotionally during a negotiation and if we aren’t ready to deal with these feelings, we could make a poor decision.
To combat overly-emotional decisions, Gino suggests consider all information that may impact how we shape our opinions. The first step is to be aware of your emotions and work proactively to keep them in check. Whenever preparing for any negotiation always to into account the emotional contingency.
Influencer No.2: Forces from Our Relationships
It’s natural to compare ourselves to others in order to evaluate our standing in society—a phenomenon psychologists refer to as social comparison. Gino notes that social comparison “can impact our behavior in ways we don’t expect” causing us to make decisions counter to our true intentions. This can be a real challenge when it comes to hiring and promotional decisions.
Whether intentional or not, we can at times get a little competitive with those we are looking to hire or promote. This need to compare ourselves can cause us to get sidetracked from our objective of making the right selection.
We live in a “keeping-up-with-the-Jones” society and this mentality often seeps into our thinking and leads to bad decisions. To keep this mentality at bay, Gino advises that you ask yourself why you may be having an adverse reaction to working with or supporting a particular individual that is otherwise an ideal candidate. She suggests “checking your reference points” to make sure your motives are consistent with the desired outcomes. It’s not unusual to feel threatened, just don’t allow these feelings to sidetrack you from making a good decision.
Influencer No.3: Forces from the Outside
Sometimes we make the erroneous assumption that people have more control over their circumstances than they really do—something Gino calls attribution error. When there are negative outcomes we overemphasize the influence of the individual and minimize the effects of the outside world.
This can come into play when evaluating performance. Managers can sometimes forget that context matters. A sales manager in one region may have the better numbers, but what about the local economic, political and environmental circumstances they are facing to make sales? Nothing occurs in a vacuum, so it’s important to take into account all the factors operating to influence outcomes. It’s easy to get sidetracked by focusing solely on the individual when evaluating performance.
Gino encourages managers and executives to ask themselves “are you carefully considering the role of the situation in your evaluation of the individual’s performance?” You don’t want to pass over that great performer who consistently beats the odds just but doesn’t have the best numbers.
We are constantly being barraged by stimuli from all around. Staying on track and making good decisions isn’t always easy, so keep an eye out for those forces acting to sidetrack us and do your best to stay the course.