Brief 

One way to improve your decision-making skills is simply to pause and seek more information, as you’ll uncover more possibilities and potentially unravel difficult problems, writes Eric McNulty. He offers five ways to avoid snap judgments and ultimately make a better decision.

 

Insight

Deciding is easy: true or false? The first challenge in answering this question is that it’s impossible to know without more information. Which decisions, with what stakes, and on what timeline—these are just a few of the contextual factors most of us would want to consider before answering. The second challenge is that it’s probably not a true-or-false proposition.

Yet asked to choose, we do. This tendency is an example of what Nobel Prize–winner Daniel Kahneman calls WYSIATI: what you see is all there is. We tend to respond to what’s presented to us. It takes extra effort to stop and ask, “What’s missing?” Our energy-conscious brains like to be efficient. The problem is that not having all of the information we need can lead us to make a poor decision.

Dr. Mazahrin Banaji of Harvard University and her colleagues have researched implicit bias by exploiting this quick-response tendency. One of their well-known findings is that people more quickly associate positive words with white faces and negative words with nonwhite faces. But a lesser-known finding is that test-takers never pause to ask for more detail. I have found similar results when using my own associative test in leadership seminars.

Asked whether someone will be a great or not-so-great leader based only on a photograph, participants render judgment and can articulate their reasons. Rarely does someone say, “I don’t know” or “I need to know more about this person.”

 

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