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Beyond Pro/Con Decision Making

This article was originally written by Michael Hall – gently edited by The Coaching Room


In Meta-Coaching we use the Axes of Change as our first and primary model for enabling people to make intelligent, robust, and ecological decisions. Specifically, we use the second axis, The Decision Axis which is based on the meta-program of reflective— active. To that end, we invite a client to reflect on the pros and cons of a choice. What are the advantages if you make that choice? What are the disadvantages? Typically this leads to a whole list of reasons why a choice would be beneficial and reasons why a person has to be cautious because it will have another set of things that will cost the person.


This pro-and-con orientation in decision-making is what we all use. To a great extent it is how we naturally and inevitably think. That is, we default to thinking in terms of choices and contrasts, values and dis-values, this or that.  Simultaneously, we also think in terms of the reasons why I am for or against something. For this reason, it makes perfect sense to start by asking for the advantages and disadvantages. But the Pro/Con list is just the beginning. There’s much more to do if you are to generate great decisions and especially if you want to create highly intelligent or smart decisions.


What potential problems could there be here? Ah, yes, human reasoning! And why? Because when we reason— even if you have been highly trained in effective, clear, rational, systemic reasoning—you still are liable to the cognitive biases and also to the cognitive distortions and fallacies. If you are not aware of that, check out the newest book from Neuro-Semantics, Executive Thinking: Activating Your Highest Executive Thinking Potentials (2018).


A Well-Formed Decision

NLP introduced the idea of a well-formed outcome some 40 years ago, and from that I developed a Neuro-Semantic Precision Template and from that created a well-formed problem, a well- formed solution, a well-formed innovation (all are now in the book, Creative Solutions, 2017) as well as other well-formed patterns. So how about a Well-Formed Decision? Doesn’t that make sense if we want to make great and intelligent decisions? Given that, here is a list of questions— questions within certain categories — that enable a person to construct a well-formed decision.


The Well-Formed Decision Questions

The Subject of the Decision: First identify the subject of the decision.

1)   What is the decision you want or need to make? What are your choices?

2)   What will the decision look like or sound like? When you make it, you will say what?

3)   Why is it important to make this decision? (Repeat several times with each answer.)


The Contextual Situation of the Decision: Decisions, like every other experience occurs in some context. Identify the specific context for the decision under consideration.

4)   When do you need to make the decision? What time factors are involved?

5)   In what area of life is this decision relevant? (Where) How does it (or could it) influence other areas of your life?

6)   Is anyone else involved in making the decision? Are you the sole decider? (Who)


The Required Actions of the Decision: As an experience, you have to do something to make a decision, identify these actions even if they are the micro-actions of thinking and feeling.

7)   What do you need to know to make the decision? What information do you need to gather and from who or where? How much information do you need? What else do you need to do to make or take the decision?


The Inner Power (Capacity) for Making the Decision: Given that action is required for a decision, then inner ability is also required.

8)   Is the information available now? How much information is currently available? If you don’t know, what probably would you estimate? Is that information within your control to access? If not, then who has access to it?

9)   Do you have the capacity to get the required information? To process it?

10)    Have you ever made a similar decision in the past? What did you do that enabled your decision-making?


The Planning Process of Decision-Making: With big decisions and decisions that will forge a new or long-term direction for life, you will probably want to plan it in order to manage it over time. Identify how you will do this.

11)    How do you plan to gather the information and order it so you can make a decision? If others are involved in the planning, information-gathering, or deciding, what is your plan for integrating them into the process?

12)    What cognitive biases, distortions, and fallacies may be in the information you gather? Do you know how to question, check, and clean out the biases, distortions, and fallacies? Do you have someone on the team who can do that?

13)    How will you monitor a long-term decision that requires ongoing observation and action? What feedback will you want and/or need to stay on plan?


The Supportive Resources for Deciding: As an experience, it can be supplied with sufficient resources or it can lack them. Identify the resources that you want to round-out your deciding.

14)    Is there anything that can or will stop or interfere with you getting the information, formulating it, and making a decision from it? What potential risks are there? What risk management skills do you need? How much risk is there involved? What contingency plans have you set up?

15)    What resources do you need so that you can do this effectively and intelligently? What external resources? What internal resources?

16)    How will you test the final decision to make sure it is ecological for you? How will you determine if it will create any long-term unintended consequences?


Concluding and Deciding: How will you bring closure to the process of decision?

17)    How will you know when you are ready to make a decision? When you make the decision, what will be the convincer for you? In what representational system?

18)    What will be the evidence that you have made a decision and ready to move forward? Will it be written, stated aloud, confirmed with someone else, or what?


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