Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The decision-making process: why people change their mind

A recent HBR post explored strategies to deal with people who get stalled in their decision-making process, and so appear to change their minds just when you think you are all clear about the outcome and next steps (Su, 25 May 2016).

However, what may not be obvious from the outside is that the person making the decision may not be as far down the decision-making path as we thought they were.

Instead, they are still either stage one: looking for input so they can determine what the options are; or have progressed to stage two, where they have some idea about an ideal options, but don't yet fully understand the ramifications of it. It is only at stage three, where people have thought things through, and are close to determining exactly what the next steps are that people won't appear to flip flop. 

Instead of being annoyed, Su proposes a very sensible approach in asking where people - in this case, Leslie and Jack - are at (25 May 2016). Jack is seeking clarification from Leslie, and says:
“To avoid confusion in the future, it would be helpful to me and my team if you could be more explicit about where you are in the decision-making process. For example: 1) Are you seeking our input to understand potential options? 2) Have you already set a potential direction and want our views on that? Or, 3) Have you come to a decision and are informing our team on how to proceed?”

He shared that it often felt like Leslie was speaking as if she were in scenario number three, when in fact she was much earlier in the process.

He went on to make a request of Leslie in the following way: “Also, if something changes from our last conversation, it would be helpful if you could include the context for what has changed and why so we understand what’s happened.”

Jack further made an offer to help the process. “I can also take the extra step after our meetings together to document what was agreed upon or discussed to ensure that we have the same understanding and take-away messages.”
I like the practical nature of the questions, and that instead of blame, this is simply seeking information.


  • Su, A. J. (25 May 2016). What to Do When a Colleague Can’t Stick to a Decision. Harvard Business Review Blog.

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