But, problematic communication could be secondary to--a result of--flaws in decision-making processes. Such flaws may not be recognized as an important source of relational problems. When people then dive into discussions, they are at risk for having unexpressed concerns, differing views, and assumptions about how decisions will be made.
As a result, it is more difficult to sustain dialogue—a process of eliciting and assuring mutual understanding of differing ideas, opinions, and perceptions. Instead, due to the prevailing uncertainties, people are more likely to fall into debates, arm-twisting, coaxing, and pressuring which disrupt efforts to achieve alignment.
Identifying flaws in decision making and doing something about them can help significantly to shift a murky, entangled debate into a clear, effective process of dialogue.
Common decision-making errors include lack of clarity about: who has the authority to make the call; the type of decision being used; whether there will be input before and after decisions are made in order to address concerns; or if those impacted will be involved in the design of the implementation plan.
A quick diagnostic for flaws in decision making process (to support high quality dialogue):
- In this situation, is it clear who (person or group) has the authority to make the decision?
- Has that person or group identified the type of decision making to be used? (see brief descriptions below)
- Is there a clear timeline for the decision?
- Do people who are impacted and those who can contribute expertise have opportunities to give input? Have they been involved in creating a mutual definition of the problem?
- Has there been high quality dialogue prior to the decision with consideration of different options and the benefits and risks of each?
- Will there be opportunity to express reactions and address concerns about a decision after it is made?
- Will people be involved in designing the implementation plan for the decision?
- Will the person or group who made the decision engage in regular review of the quality, clarity, and effectiveness of decision making processes?
Types of decision making: (1)
The following two decision types mesh best with the objective of promoting high quality dialogue.
- In consultative decisions, a leader with the authority to do so makes the call after obtaining input through dialogue from those who will be impacted and those who have key knowledge and expertise.
- In consensus, a group of people make the call together. Consensus does not mean that the decision is everyone’s first choice but that everyone can live with the decision and commit fully to its success.
- In authoritative decision making, a leader with authority makes the decision without input. Dialogue about the decision after it is made is crucial to promote alignment and participation in implementation.
- When decisions are delegated, a leader with authority gives that authority to another leader or team who then determines the decision type and process to be used.
Maintaining high quality dialogue while also maintaining clarity and quality of decision making processes is an important and nuanced balancing act. It takes art, skill, and ongoing, deliberate practice by individual leaders and by teams.
Additional brief articles on decision making
- When Decisions Cause Distress--a path of courage and compassion
- Always consider consultation before deciding.
- We have a consensus!?
- The delicate balance of positional power and empowerment
- Asserting authority while preserving choice.
(1) Special thanks to Robert Crosby. See his book Walking the Empowerment Tightrope 1992.