DECISIONS

13 March 2006

A great many years ago I was taught a set of tools to use in learning and working.  I have and hold these tricks dear; they have served me well. The following is a tool for bringing reason and rationality to making decisions.

It can be built up into a complex thing, but to give you the idea, let’s start off with a small grid.

You get two options (the action and not-the-action) and so does your opponent. They get the rows and you get the columns. It’s a bit like this:

Rows:THEIR DECISION

NOT IN YOUR CONTROL

Columns: PERSONAL DECISION
IN YOUR CONTROL

ACTION IN ACTION
ACTION WAR THEY WIN YOU LOSE
INACTION YOU WIN THEY LOSE NO WIN NO LOSE

All you have to do is think about the outcome in each of the four boxes where the rows meet the columns.

Now, it must be said that the initial idea one might get from the above grid is that action is always better than inaction — the chances of winning (or not losing) are better.  Inaction provides two outcomes — nothing or a loss, but action yields a win and a war that might be won. However, it would be a huge mistake to use this grid as qualification for attack, for doing something, or to always strike first. It would, in fact, be a huge mistake to use the grid at all; it’s just the basic outline!

The grid is supposed to be realistic — a tool for the real world every day, so let’s get straight to making a proper one — but we’ll still keep it a simple two column, two row grid.  Having seen the outline grid, and once you have seen a real one thought up and thought-through, I hope you will be confident about giving it a go — making it perfectly suit your own special circumstances.

First of all, simply change the column headed “inaction” for “avoidance”. It is a subtle change, but it makes all the difference in the world. The original grid is too unrealistic and simplistic because “inaction” implies turning the other cheek and letting people do things without defending yourself.  “Avoidance” dramatically improves the decision-making — so here’s our first “real” decision grid.

Let’s say there’s been an argument between two people which has caused a rift such that people have sided with the other party. This is very common — you fall out with someone at work,  a family member, someone at a club or even a group of neighbours, and it seems like everyone has taken their side over you.

The question is what to do next. Who should make the first move to break the stalemate? The grid will help.

FACE UP TO THEM — RISE TO THE BAIT — DEAL WITH WHATEVER THEY GIVE STAY AWAY — AVOID THEM — DON’T TAKE THE BAIT — MAINTAIN SILENCE
THEY ARE GOING TO GET YOU This is a fight! Both sides will want to make points and get things off their chests.
Because the group has sided with them, you cannot win.
You have to choose to stay or go.
If you are to be accepted back, you are looking for damage limitation, saving face, capitulating with some dignity.
If you are going, you want to clear the air, give as good as you get, all as you depart forever. It’s about losing, but not giving in.
YOU — NOT GOOD
They cannot get a response, they are frustrated; they want a fight, but you’re not playing to their rules; you’re unavailable until they cool off — it’s on your terms…

YOU — ADVANTAGE or win
them — disadvantage

THEY ARE NOT ACTIVELY OUT TO GET YOU If it turns out that they are not actually actively out to get you, you are likely to make things worse by stirring everything up. It is more likely that doing something in this case would make them actively out to get you — see row above

YOU — LOSE
them — win

If it turns out that they are not actually actively out to get you, and you are unavailable and saying nothing, then you cannot make it worse, and neither can they, so it’s a win-win.

YOU — WIN
them — win

Well, look at the result now — it is pretty clear that avoidance is the winner for a person in such a situation.

  • Avoidance/ going your own way or going about your own business is always the best practice when bullied by or ganged up on by a group.

As soon as you can, you must move house, get another job, change school or whatever — as long as you can get away and put it all behind you.

  • When people side with one person over you, it is impossible to fix without you capitulating, surrendering, apologising and debasing yourself.  Forever thereafter, the relationship will be such that you will always be the lesser, and all the rest will be greater than you.

If you cannot move house, if you cannot get another job, if you are stuck in that school, or if the rift is in a family or business where links exist that are difficult to sever, then, if you refuse to capitulate, an intermediary would then be required (because you are avoiding them).

Intermediaries can be an emissary from their camp, but they can be independent third parties — lawyers, councillors, trained negotiators.

The intermediary might decide to offer their peace deal, or some way forward (changing from top row to bottom row), or they may remain filled with animosity on the top row, and employ a lawyer or hitman or some other agent to get at you!  It is up to them as you have decided to avoid. Avoidance puts the ball firmly in their court.

I am sure you will agree that the decision-making grid (in general) is a great tool, and the example I have used here is particularly useful in understanding diplomacy and the social mechanics of quarrels and rifts.

You will see the truth in this — you only need to look around you to see it in practice.  I have seen levels of intermediary used to communicate and outline negotiate — things like magazine articles, press leaks, radio “gaffes”, whisper campaigns, e-mail virals, blogs, forums, and old-fashioned letters.

At the end of the day, you have to realise that when people gang up on you, they want you gone or they want you “put in your lowly place”. They do not expect to lose, and in fact the majority always wins in the end.  If you do not want to accept your lowly place, you must go quietly.  Don’t be bitter about it; that’s life!  You picked the wrong person to quarrel with or stand up to.

Every day bluffs are called. Maybe you thought they needed you more than they do.  Maybe you thought that in time, one-by-one you could win them round. Maybe you thought that because you were in the moral right that people would side with you, or maybe you naively thought that people would side with you to be rid of a hated bully.  It was a misjudgement, a miscalculation, that’s all.

You may even be waiting for the intermediary, the emissary — but none will come, for they just wanted you gone; you were a risk, a pest, trouble.  They don’t want you back to rock their boat. Another bluff called.

So, to conclude, I hope you find the descision making grid a useful every day tool, and I hope that you found the specific example enlightening and enriching!
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13 Responses to “DECISIONS”


  1. […] and it was only solved when he capitulated [to understand how this works see my post called “Decisions” — EDIT […]

  2. Robert Renfrew Says:

    Greetings
    Any more like this please?

  3. davedevine Says:

    @Robert,
    Yes, maybe I will do posts on some of my fave biomedical ethics or philosophy topics! Yes, I think I will do one on a related theme — The Prisoner’s Dilema. Watch this space; as soon as I have time, I promise to do it (it’s also a grid/chart thing). Cheers!


  4. […] In the comments to my post called “Decisions” back in March 2006, I promised I would do a post on “The Prisoners’ Dilemma” because it is something I like, something that struck me at the time as insightful and interesting — and therefore something I would naturally want to share (which is what this blog is all about). […]

  5. Nathan Says:

    My child is being bullied at school. Are you saying that the only real way out of this is to move schools? Please email me [e-mail address removed]

  6. davedevine Says:

    @Nathan
    Iff you can remove the bully, then there is a chance for not just your kid, but all concerned to rebuild relationships, to realign, to regroup.

    When the bully cannot be removed (such as in the case of a family member, senior officer, teacher etc), then yes, the only way is to quit as early as possible in my considered opinion and in my own personal experience. It may be ostensibly appear to be a drastic or difficult step, but compared with the alternative, it’s actually the least difficult and drastic, believe me! Choose the peaceful way every time.

    Good luck!

  7. Nathan Says:

    Thanks, I get it now. This really is an amazing article. I have been thinking about it for days now, and so many things suddenly make sense!

    It’s an interesting blog, but this is the best entry I have come across. If you have any more stuff like this, I would be really interested…!!

  8. Jennifer Says:

    So are you saying that there is a case for forcably removing a dictator like Saddam?

  9. davedevine Says:

    @Jennifer
    Removing a bully is always the best way. If you cannot do that, then you have to quit as you will be outgunned. A dictator is really a bully inside his own country. there is only really a big problem for you as a country, if the dictator’s country is a bully , and other countries align with them (against you). If you take my meaning.

  10. Regan Says:

    Hi Dave
    Nice blog, nice slant. This post I had to read through a couple of times, but it was worth it because it is so amazing. The most weird thing for me was how it went from the best outcome to always be to do something to a switch around to how avoidance is best. You got any tips for getting the chart just right?? I wouldn’t want to use it to make a lifechange decision only to realise later I had screwed up the headings!
    Regan

  11. davedevine Says:

    @Regan
    Thanks.
    Yes, I can see why you would be worried, but don’t be! As long as you are “realistic” (the minimalist first one was not if you think about it). Oh, and you can have as many columns and rows as you think you need. It is a tool, but only in the sense that it guides your mind and keeps you to a format — which is much better than trying to think things through in some random and shapeless way!

  12. Dark Night Fighter Says:

    4 outcomes is obvious — win-win/ lose-lose/ win-lose and lose-win. You could figure odds and gamble.

    When you say you have to be realistic, the only thing you changed was inaction. You made doing nothing into avoidance, and that made all the difference.

    Inaction is doing nothing, basically giving in, avoidance is hiding and cowardice, they are already winning. So, yes. You are right, it is BETTER to QUIT RIGHT AWAY than to be a cowardly scaredycat.

    But the main thing is that when a gang aligns against a meek or weak person, they always win, because the meek has to avoid and capitulate or quit with their tail between their damn legs.

    Basic injustice my man, this is immoral. Maybe it is worth fighting them head on, because you can then count yourself as a real man with dignity. Maybe, just maybe, you will win.

    What about getting some help to even up the odds? Yeah, come ON, bully THIS! You do have a range of options from enlisting the A Team, the magnificent seven or the man with no name to using technology and cunning to get the better of them.

    Make them eat dirt. The LAW is supposed to help the little guy stand up to tyranny like this. Get some NUTS! Be pro-active hombre!
    Dark Night Fighter

    • Strawman Says:

      To see the difference as between inaction and avoidance is to miss the context (which is everything here). I think that if you are in a “situation”, you have to wonder if you are paranoid and have misread it. You can’t come out guns blazing every time, who can live like that? Anyways it makes YOU the bully if you read the situation wrong.

      Instead you need to consider other angles before making a decision. Dave is right, there’s a tipping point by then it is too late cos you are outnumbered and squaring the odds only delays the inevitable. Can you live with your guard up all the time like that? You HAVE to go as soon as possible after the tip.

      OK, I agree that there is an alternative sometimes … getting rid of the ringleader bully, but impossible for a family and most situations frankly.

      Taking a moral stand, taking it on the chin, eye for an eye, being straight and true, (etc) are all heroic and worthy traits depicted in novels, poems and Hollywood Blockbusters. The result is either an honourable death, martyrdom or some form of mass extermination!

      In martyrdom, yes, you were proved to be in the right, you died with honour and courage.. but you LOST! The other way is when you are turned into a vengeful vigilante maverick, hellbent on exacting revenge and making them pay! You spend the rest of your life filled with hate and placing them dead centre of your existence… how can THAT be a win?

      Seriously a win in when you show that you don’t care that much, and you simply and nonchalantely (if that’s a word) walk away to a better life.

      As I write this I am thinking of Hosni Mubarack and of Col. Gaddafi.

      It is the same thing in reverse, instead of a group collecting around a bully against a victim… this exact same situation applies when the victim is a dictator/bully and the group is a revolutionary movement.

      Come on, Gaddafi, you have to leave… NOW!


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