Making decisions is the most important part of any job. It’s also the riskiest and toughest thing to do because if you make a bad decision you can harm a business, and sometimes even destroy a career. To learn how to make good decisions, it’s a great idea to consider the reasons why bad decisions are made.
Bad decisions come from not clearly defining alternative choices. That means doing things like not collecting the right information or not properly considering benefits and costs.
Bad decisions are often stemmed from the way the decisions were made. That’s because it’s easy for your brain to fall into psychological traps that make you disproportionally weigh the information received. This is called the confirming-evidence trap.
People tend to fall into a trap of becoming attached to the first information they receive and then unconsciously hone in on just the data that supports that information. This happens because humans are attracted to information that supports their subconscious leanings. The article The Hidden Traps in Decision Making by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa explains that we tend to do this because we, “subconsciously decide what we want to do before we figure out why we want to do it. The second is our inclination to be more engaged by things we like than by things we dislike.”
Just because you’re subconsciously drawn to a choice, doesn’t mean that it’s the wrong choice. It’s just important to make sure that the choice you’re subconsciously attracted to is the smart choice.
You can avoid making bad choices and falling victim to the confirming-evidence trap by doing a handful of things. These techniques can help you stay clear of the confirming-evidence trap:
- Look for and then carefully listen to the views of people who were not involved with the earlier decisions. These people are unlikely committed to the earlier decisions. Better yet, have these people play play devils advocate with you. Have them argue against the decision you’re thinking about making so you can really make sure your making a smart choice.
- Make sure to think about whether you’re really examining all of the evidence you have with equal thoroughness.
- If you think somebody on your team has fallen into the confirming-evidence trap, there’s no reason why you can’t reassign roles within the project.
- Think about if you’re really collecting all of the information that helps you make a smart choice or if you’re just collecting evidence that confirms what you think you’d like to do.
- If somebody who you ask for advice from always seems to agree with you, find a new adviser. Don’t always surround yourself with people who say yes to everything.
The confirming-evidence trap is easy to avoid if you’re aware of its existence. Using the techniques above will help you better your decision making skills and analyze information in the most coherent and intelligent way possible.