The Decide 10 Rating System

Tool for expressing desire & priority for decision and activities in a 2-person relationship.

This tool looks very simple on face, but is literally one of the most useful and transformative tools I have ever come across. It helps two people communicate and decide whether to engage in any activity, action, decision, or favor. It’s especially useful for an ongoing series of collective decisions over time, or when the parties come from different cultures or communication styles.

It was created by two good friends of mine, Gillian and Henry, who are disabled and/or have ways in which their needs are not always obvious. At first, they wanted a way to unambiguously express not just what they wanted or needed, but exactly how important it was, in order to empower others to make informed and consensual decisions about where to prioritize their effort in interactions.

Since then, Decide 10 has grown to become a go-to solution to clearly express preference and evaluate decisions in any shared context without awkwardness around request-making, translating across personal, social, and cultural differences. This simple expressive decision making tool that covers everything from, “What do you feel like doing this afternoon” to “Drop everything and fly across the country.”

The Basics

You and one other person are trying to figure out whether to go ahead with something. For example, where to go for dinner, what school to send the children to, who should do which chores, what project to finish first, etc.

You both select how much you want the thing under discussion to happen on the specific 1–10 scale below. Choose separately in your head.

(The extremes of the scale are very extreme: the vast majority of the time, you will be at the 4–6 or 3–7 range. 5 is the middle.)

Then share your numbers at the same time and add them together. If they total 10 or more, it means that there is enough common will/benefit that you should go ahead with it. If not, it means the idea doesn’t work well enough for the two of you — no sweat, just try something else.

Note that the “scale” is actually more like a qualitative list with numbers attached than a quantitative ranking, so there is no estimation or “half-steps”: everyone must commit to a specific individual number or it.

The Scale

(Because this is actually easier to understand if you start at 5 and go out from there, I will introduce the middle first, and then go out from there. See the end of the article for the full scale in order from 1 to 10)

5 = Yes, if want to go for this as much as I do, let’s do it.
Ex: Let’s head downtown and take a walk, sounds fun.
Ex2: Sure, Hawaii sounds like a solid choice for our honeymoon, I’d be down.

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6 = I would love to do this and will provide the energy / momentum / engagement boost to make it happen.
Ex: I love playing that board game! Let’s do it! I’ll explain the rules.

4 = Mm, I could be chill with going along with this, but I’m not as excited so somebody else will have to drive the energy.
Ex: This does not hit every point of the deal I was hoping for, but it’s fine and I’ll take it.

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7 = I really want/need this and am willing to spend everyday social capital to make it happen. Do it for me as a casual favor?
Ex: I know it’s not your thing, but I’ve been dying to go mini golfing for months. Come with me?
Ex: I could really use a 20 minute emotional debrief from that last intense activity we did.

3 = I wouldn’t do this on my own, but it’s not going to hurt me so I will if it’s important to you.
Ex: I’m kind of sick of this activity, but since you love it so much, let’s go one more time.

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8 = This is important for my wellbeing in some way. It’s important enough to put things down and potentially (but not always) be a significant favor.
Ex: I am going crazy with being overwhelmed for the past month. Can you watch the kids this weekend so I can take a couple days off for some alone time?
Ex2: I’m still actually really hurt from that last conversation we had. I really need us to just sit down and talk about this.

2 = I don’t like this idea at all, or this will actually cause me moderate harm / inconvenience, but it’s recoverable or I can grit my teeth and live with it. I will only do it if the benefit to you significantly outweighs the harm to me, since we’re a team.
Ex: I don’t have time for this and have to shift mine and others’ schedules around to make it happen
Ex2: I’m scared of spiders, so if you want me to clear these ones out you’re going to really owe me.

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9 = This is a turning-point critical event for me and I just need you to drop everything and help me. The importance transcends the tracking of social capital in a typical relationship.
Ex: Come pick me up in the middle of the night from this emergency situation.

1 = This will cause me substantial harm / inconvenience. It’s only something I would do if it’s an emergency.
Ex: Spending a significant amount of my savings to help you escape an abusive relationship
Ex2: I have a downright phobia of spiders, but since you’re in bed with a broken leg, I guess I’ll find a way to get rid of them…?

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10 = This is so important, the relationship is at stake.
Ex: Go to rehab

0 = This is fundamentally damaging and I would never do it unless the relationship itself is at stake.
Ex: Putting my career on hold to move to another country with my spouse

Clarifications, Notes, & FAQs

A. There are no half steps. You MUST commit to one of the situations.

This one is often the hardest to observe, but it’s important. The steps are qualitative at heart, not stages on a quantitative gradient. The numbers are there as a convenient ‘add it together’ decision-making hack.

Instead, most of the time, when we say, for example, “I’m a 5.5” or “I’m a 3.5”, what we really mean is that we are the more extreme version (ie a 6 or a 3). But we don’t want to take the social commitment of staking such a strong claim. But the entire point of the tool is to remove that awkwardness, and help people own how genuinely important or undesirable something is to them. If someone insists that they are an X.5, round them to the closest extreme (i.e., away from center).

B. Be honest about your numbers, don’t judge, and see what where the cards fall.

The purpose of this tool is to be transparent about feeling, need, desire, and the movement of social capital — so stating your number should never itself be a social pressure interaction, require justification, or “come with strings attached”.

Think about the number that, in your gut, feels right to you. Don’t pressure yourself to exaggerate in either direction. You don’t have to justify or explain your number. Instead, the most important thing to do is to be as accurate to your own feelings, needs, and abilities as possible. Because the two of you are a team, what’s good or bad for one is also good or bad for both; each individual’s responsibility is to be accurate about themselves and caring about the other.

On the flip side, it means that each party has an obligation to accept the number given, even if it’s surprising.

If the two numbers add up to 10, great! If they add up to more than 10, even better!

If your numbers don’t match up, and the stakes are low, then it just means the activity / action doesn’t meet your collective needs, just find something else.

If they don’t match and the stakes are high, that is the foundation for a realistic conversation about what is possible to achieve together.

C. Your position on a given thing can and usually does change over time.

For example, you can be a 6 to play a game in the morning, but only a 4 later in the afternoon.

More importantly, if over the past few weeks, you’ve had a lot of interactions where you’ve been the 3 and your counterpart has been the 7 (for example, because they’re having a bad month and you’re supporting them a lot with minor favors to cheer them up), it’s natural for that karma balance to eventually add up. You may look up one day and realize that your 3 has turned into a 2, because you’re burned out. And now it’s time for the other person to pick up some of the slack.

D. Mirror image positions are not equivalent by default.

Ie, if you are a 7 for something to happen, you are (usually) not also 3 for it to not happen. This is because in a 3/7 interaction, karma will only be flowing one way: decide whether you are the 3 or the 7 by assessing whether you intend to be the giver or the receiver of karma.

E. This only works with someone with whom you are in a relationship of mutual goodwill.

Ie, that both parties fundamentally care about the good of each party and are mutually invested. It just doesn’t apply in adversarial negotiations.

Examples

Everyday Use

My husband is a really chill guy who has a habit of under-expressing his desires. I, by contrast, am an expressive person with a lot of preferences.

When we discuss what we want to do for the weekend or where to go for dinner, he’s by default inclined to go along with anything.

I’ve discovered that the difference between his being a 4 about getting Ethiopian vs a 6 can be nearly impossible to read if I was previously energetic about it, because he just wants to make me happy.

Using the scale, we can rate out a few items, and pick the one that adds to 11 or 12. And, because he’s frequently a 5 and rarely a 6, we go for a 6/4 split in his favor over a 5/5 split on the rare occasion there’s a toss-up between the two. That way neither of us have to change our communication styles, but my natural loudness doesn’t overwhelm his natural quietness.

Multifaceted Decision

This past Thanksgiving, I got the flu while pregnant, which you’re really supposed to avoid. We had plans to go to some friends’ house for the holiday, and I wanted him to go without me to socially represent us, whereas he wanted to stay home with me to make sure I didn’t get worse.

We went back and forth about pros and cons: “You can bring me leftovers so I have great nutritious food!” “I don’t know them as well as you!” “I don’t want to ditch our friends!” “What if I have to take you to the emergency room?”

Finally, he bust out with, “I’m definitely not more than a 3 to go. Maybe a 2.”

And I said, “Oh, okay, I’m just a really enthusiastic 6 for you to go.” And that immediately settled it. He stayed home with me.

Relationship Communication

Kate keeps bringing up the same issue every few weeks in the relationship. Her girlfriend, Tara, thinks that this is just a reflection of her anxiety and soothes her every time.

Finally Kate says, “No, stop telling me it’ll be fine. We need to sit down and have a real conversation about this. I’ve been a 6 or 7 to solve XYZ issue, but now it’s become an 8.”

Tara finally realizes that the problem is more serious than she assumed. They cancel their evening plans and talk it out.

Practical Partnership

We were discussing a nanny share arrangement with our neighbor, a setup wherein a single caregiver takes care of one kid from each household to save on costs. Because it’s shared childcare, you’re mutually invested through a lot of planning, negotiation, and compromises around the kids’ lives.

I noticed that our neighbor’s house was very clean, and that in our planning sessions they’d occasionally talk about how they wanted the nanny to pick up after herself and leave the house how they found it. Finally, the neighbor said, “Not having a mess, coming back to the same house I left it, that’s like a 10 for us.”

I had no idea the specific orderliness of the space was so important to them, especially compared to the fifty other items under discussion. I had just assumed they were the generally neat sort at the level of about a 7, and that since kids make messes the nanny could just kind of do her best and everything would be fine.

Knowing that keeping the house clear was a dealbreaker for them, we reframed what type of nanny we were looking for, how we organized the day, and added the cleaning requirement to the contract itself.

Appendix: The Decide 10 Scale In Order

10 = This is so important, the relationship is at stake.
Ex: Go to rehab

9 = This is a turning-point critical event for me and I just need you to drop everything and help me. The importance transcends the tracking of social capital in a typical relationship.
Ex: Come pick me up in the middle of the night from this emergency situation.

8 = This is important for my wellbeing in some way. It’s important enough to put things down and potentially (but not always) be a significant favor.
Ex: I am going crazy with being overwhelmed for the past month. Can you watch the kids this weekend so I can take a couple days off for some alone time?
Ex2: I’m still actually really hurt from that last conversation we had. I really need us to just sit down and talk about this.

7 = I really want/need this and am willing to spend everyday social capital to make it happen. Do it for me as a casual favor?
Ex: I know it’s not your thing, but I’ve been dying to go mini golfing for months. Come with me?
Ex: I could really use a 20 minute emotional debrief from that last intense activity we did.

6 = I would love to do this and will provide the energy / momentum / engagement boost to make it happen.
Ex: I love playing that board game! Let’s do it! I’ll explain the rules.

5 = Yes, if want to go for this as much as I do, let’s do it.
Ex: Let’s head downtown and take a walk, sounds fun.
Ex2: Sure, Hawaii sounds like a solid choice for our honeymoon, I’d be down.

4 = Mm, I could be chill with going along with this, but I’m not as excited so somebody else will have to drive the energy.
Ex: This does not hit every point of the deal I was hoping for, but it’s fine and I’ll take it.

3 = I wouldn’t do this on my own, but it’s not going to hurt me so I will if it’s important to you.
Ex: I’m kind of sick of this activity, but since you love it so much, let’s go one more time.

2 = I don’t like this idea at all, or this will actually cause me moderate harm / inconvenience, but it’s recoverable or I can grit my teeth and live with it. I will only do it if the benefit to you significantly outweighs the harm to me, since we’re a team.
Ex: I don’t have time for this and have to shift mine and others’ schedules around to make it happen
Ex2: I’m scared of spiders, so if you want me to clear these ones out you’re going to really owe me.

1 = This will cause me substantial harm / inconvenience. It’s only something I would do if it’s an emergency.
Ex: Spending a significant amount of my savings to help you escape an abusive relationship

0 = This is fundamentally damaging and I would never consider doing it unless the relationship itself is at stake.
Ex: Putting my career on hold to move to another country with my spouse