One-sided decision-making

“That’s one for you, and one for me. Two for you, and one-two for me. Three for you, and one-two-three for me.”
-From Bugs Bunny

A logical fallacy is a logical hole in an argument. In many cases people do not see their own logical fallacies. (To this point, the former CEO of BB&T, John Allison, had management teams take logic quizzes to identify holes in logic and to ensure that teams did not all share the same logical holes.)

One pernicious logical error I regularly see is in not thinking through the advantages and disadvantages of the current situation vs. a proposed future situation. There are four aspects to consider:

Two labels "Current situation" and "Future situation." Under each label, two boxes labeled "Good" and "Bad."
There are good and bad things about the current situation, and good and bad things about the proposed future state.

For example, if deciding whether to buy a computer:

Current situation Future situation
The Good

  • Computer works now
The Good

  • New computer has 64-bit support
The Bad

  • Computer is slow
The Bad

  • New computer costs money

You can then weigh all four of these things against one another to make a balanced decision.

I regularly see one-sided decision making in this situation: two approaches that I’ll call “I don’t want to do it” and “I really want to do it.”

I don’t want to do it

In this situation, whoever is deciding doesn’t really want to do the thing (either consciously or subconsciously). So, they use the following approach:

Two labels "Current situation" and "Future situation." Under each label, two boxes labeled "Good" and "Bad." However, "Bad" for "Current Situation" and "Good" for "Future Situation" have been crossed out.Applied to the above example, people might say something like, “Well I don’t think we should get a new computer because the computer works now and a new computer would cost money.”

This appears to be a balanced argument, but it only sees half of the problem. Or, you’ll see the opposite:

I really want to do it

For whatever reason, the decision-maker really wants to do the new thing (consciously or subconsciously). So they instead use this approach:

Two labels "Current situation" and "Future situation." Under each label, two boxes labeled "Good" and "Bad." However, "Good" from current situation and "Bad" from Future situation have been crossed out.

And using the above example they would say, “the current computer is slow and a new computer has 64-bit support.”

This isn’t balanced decision-making either.

Addressing the logical fallacy

Addressing this type of one-sided decision-making is challenging for a few reasons:

  • The decision-maker usually has the power, and it can be difficult to suggest someone in power has made a mistake
  • The decision-maker might really have already made up their mind and are really just justifying their actions–i.e. they do not want to make a logical decision
  • Helping make a balanced decision once is different than ensuring balanced decisions are always made

When possible, identify whether people are aware of the hole. You can do this by bringing upĀ one of the components–such as “well, a new computer have 64-bit support even though it costs money.” If the decision-maker listens and incorporates this thinking, you may be able to list other examples and make a better argument in that case. If they brush off the argument, this may be a sign that they have already made up their mind.

Sometimes you can also find other stakeholders who might be better able to influence the decision-maker: someone that can talk with them after hours or in private, for example.

Or, if you’re facilitating these types of discussions you can consciously build a chart like the above to ensure a complete understanding of the opportunity.