The Yes/No Decision-Making Model: Persistent But Weak

Are you stuck in this obsolete model?

Christine Green
Jan 5 · 8 min read

Do you have a conscious, intentional procedure for making decisions? Or do you respond to issues as they get in your face?

How do you make decisions about the day-to-day issues that confront your family, your job performance or your organization?

How do you tackle large decisions that your organization faces as part of the big picture?

Do you clearly identify your problems or challenges and then systematically proceed through a pre-determined process that leads you to the optimal solution?

Most of us don’t have an effective decision-making procedure to call upon when needed.

What I see most often in organizations and with my individual coaching clients is what I call the “Yes/No Decision Process.”

This process may be born out of an identified need, but most often it’s presented by someone in the organization (or an outside consultant) who comes up with “a great idea.” (if you’re like me you might come up with a so-called great idea almost every day…but that doesn’t mean you should act on any them. Often with a few day’s time, a little research and reflection, the appeal of the idea fades and it finds its way into the “not-so-hot idea” folder.)

This may happen to you as an individual. You’re either struggling with a problem and have a light-bulb moment — a compelling idea or new solution. Or you simply receive an unsolicited flash of an idea — it comes out of nowhere. It’s something new you want to try, a trip you want to take, a class…or maybe a bigger idea, like going back to school or applying for a job you happened to run across when looking for something else online.

Or perhaps at a board meeting, one of the members of your nonprofit throws their great idea out to the group. Maybe it’s a new program your organization can develop, a new event to add to the season’s schedule or a fresh marketing approach. Maybe it’s an interesting but vague notion about taking the organization in a new direction.

The “Yes/No” Decision Model

With the “Yes/No” decision model, an idea is presented, a discussion ensues as it’s considered by one or more people. Then, as long as it’s not a large, complex project, it’s either adopted or rejected.

Sound familiar?

This is the simple process used by many organizations to make the majority of their decisions.

It certainly sounds like a solid model — there was an in-depth discussion of the idea before the decision was made…maybe even a discussion that took place in more than one meeting over several weeks.

A decision was made to either move forward or the idea was dropped based on the “con” column having more entries than the “pro” column.

I recently watched the Netflix documentary Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates. In Part 3, Bill and Melinda each talk on screen about when they first acknowledged that they were in love and how they then had a decision to make — to get married or break up.

Melinda explained that Bill wanted to get married but he didn’t know if he could actually commit to a marriage and Microsoft.

“One day I walked into his bedroom and his white board had the pros and the cons of getting married!” she shares, cracking up with laughter.

Bill Gates used the standard procedure of the “pros and cons” process. And apparently his “pros” column related to marriage to Melinda had more items.

Like Bill, you might make perfectly fine decisions using this procedure — or think you do. But are you making your best decisions?

With the Yes/No Model you are following a dualistic paradigm where you are limited to two choices: saying yes to an idea or saying no to an idea.

The two-column “Pros” and “Cons” model is as dualistic as it gets.

So you weigh the Ps & Cs to decide on a yes or a no.

If you’re an analytical thinker you might even tweak the original idea to improve it before you adopt it. Kudos to you for refining the idea to better meet your needs.

But let’s take a closer look at this process.

The Danger of a Great Persuader

One of the potential pitfalls of this model is that you can easily be swayed if the idea is pitched by a passionate, articulate person who is highly invested in you or the organization adopting their idea.

If the person pitching the idea is in a position of power their influence is strong. And in many cases, the discussion and decision-making are simply a false formality for an idea that will be implemented if that person wants it.

Indeed an idea may be a great one, but it’s too easy to have a blind spot if you like and respect the person who presents the idea.

If you are someone who is easily influenced you can get caught up in the excitement of that person. And if you don’t have solid emotional or intellectual boundaries you might have difficulty staying true to your own gut sense, fleeting doubts, etc.

The Danger of a Lousy Persuader

On the other hand, as explained in this blog post “Great Ideas Don’t Persuade,” the most brilliant idea in the world won’t get buy-in until it’s pitched by an excellent persuader.

Did Anyone Present a Dissenting Opinion?

You may find that you are tuned in to the energy of the presenter and don’t want to rain on their parade or seem negative, so you keep any concerns to yourself. You might have a few flashes of potential pitfalls, but see that everyone else is all bubbly and on board with the idea.

You don’t always trust your own perceptions or you tell yourself that what just crossed your mind isn’t worth mentioning — either because you don’t think of yourself as analytical or you’re concerned that the person who had the idea (or even the whole team) might get irritated and you don’t want to make waves.

So you keep it to yourself. You don’t express your concerns. Something doesn’t feel quite right, but you don’t tell the group because you can’t put your finger on it. It’s not clear in your mind so you don’t speak up.

The Yes/No model can work fine for many decisions, but it’s limiting and might even be dangerous.

If your organization has a cultural norm of not encouraging divergent opinions or if those who “rock the boat” are frowned upon, the result at best will be mediocre decisions that are the result of blind spots. And at worst can be a serious mistake.

In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business by Charlan Jeanne Nemeth is my new favorite book. The author delves into an important decision-making aspect. Her research looks at one element of the Yes/No model that I’ve been reflecting on for years.

Without an approach that’s more comprehensive than the Yes/No decision-making model, and without the gift of dissenting opinions… you might end up choosing:

  • a new health plan

that is not your best choice.

You’re going with on or off, yes or no — and that’s simply too limited.

Unfortunately, we often don’t have the opportunity to find out that we didn’t make the best decision — the best choice. Or we may not find out until it’s too late to change course, and we’re stuck with something that isn’t working and difficult to get out of.

I love this recent quote by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. She is likely speaking mostly from the perspective of a woman of color who has not always had a seat at the table much less having her perspective heard and valued.

I imagine she values any divergent opinions because she isn’t afraid of a shaking table. And I imagine she makes informed decisions.

Pressley states: “When you have a diversity of perspectives, opinion and thought around the table, it means different questions are asked, that that shakes the table.”

Emotional Allure and the Yes/No Decision-making Model

I’ve seen this happen time and time again. An idea is skillfully pitched by a charismatic “believer” who may be an associate, a stranger, a website or even yourself!

On the receiving end of the presentation, you become convinced of the merits and benefits of the idea — not because it’s necessarily a great idea, but because it was presented with a great sales pitch. (by a person, a website landing page, an online ad)

You’ll weigh the pros and cons and feel like you’ve made a wise decision. You’ll get excited about it. You buy-in and become invested in adopting it.

There’s only one problem.

We often get emotionally caught up in the romance of what the idea promises (just as we might in a new intimate relationship). This emotional attachment can cloud our vision.

And, unless we fully revisit the original problem that this idea proposes to solve and look through a wider lens, we will never know if we could have met the challenge more efficiently, effectively or at a lower cost for the equivalent or greater value.

In other words, if we do not consider a wider range of options, there is no True Choice.

Learn about the True Choice Decision-Making Model that I’ve developed. It’s a comprehensive six-step process that helps you make your best decisions.

The next time you make a small or large decision, notice your process.

How did you proceed? What exactly did you do? Was it a “Yes/No” decision?

Or was it a comprehensive process that made you feel confident that you made your best decision? Learn the six-step process here.

Christine Green coaches business owners and organizational leaders who want to improve their decision-making process. She consults with employers, helping them make better hiring decisions. This is an updated version of the original post published September 23, 2009.
Christine Green

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Web designer & content writer with unbridled perspectives on almost everything. https://christinegreen.com/

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