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A case like this is hand-tooled for dialogue. All of the partici­

pants need to get their meaning into the pool-including their

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A case like this is hand-tooled for dialogue. All of the partici­ pants need to get their meaning into the pool-including their
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opinions about who should make the final choice. That’s part of

the meaning you need to discuss. If you don’t openly talk about

who decides and why, and your opinions vary widely, you’re like­

ly to end up in a heated battle that can only be resolved in court.

Handled poorly, that’s exactly where these kind of issues are

resolved-The lones Family vs. Happy Valley School District.

So what’s a person to do? Talk openly about your child’s abil­

ities and interests as well as about how the final choice will be

made. Don’t mention lawyers or a lawsuit in your opening com­

ments; this only reduces safety and sets up an adversarial cli­

mate. Your goal is to have an open, honest, and healthy discus­

sion about a child, not to exert your influence, make threats, or

somehow beat the educators . Stick with the opinions of the

experts at hand, and discuss how and why they should be

involved. When decision-making authority is unclear, use your

best dialogue skills to get meaning into the pool. Jointly decide

how to decide.

The Four Methods of Decision Making

When you’re deciding how to decide, it helps to have a way of

talking about the decision-making options available. There are

four common ways of making decisions: command, consult,




vote, and consensus. These four options represent increasing

degrees of involvement. Increased involvement, of course, brings

the benefit of increased commitment along with the curse of

decreased decision-making efficiency. Savvy people choose from

among these four methods of decision making the one that best

suits their particular circumstances.

Com mand

Let’s start with decisions that are made with no involvement what­

soever. This happens in one of two ways. Either outside forces

place demands on us (demands that leave us no wiggle room), or

we tum decisions over to others and then follow their lead. We

don’t care enough to be involved-let someone else do the work.

In the case of external forces, customers set prices, agencies

mandate safety standards, and other governing bodies simply

hand us demands. As much as employees like to think their boss­

es are sitting around making choices, for the most part they’re

simply passing on the demands of the circumstances. These are

command decisions. With command decisions, it’s not our job to

decide what to do. It’s our job to decide how to make it work.

In the case of turning decisions over to others, we decide

either that this is such a low-stakes issue that we don’t care

enough to take part or that we completely trust the ability of the

delegate to make the right decision. More involvement adds

nothing. In strong teams and great relationships, many decisions

are made by turning the final choice over to someone we trust to

make a good decision. We don’t want to take the time ourselves

and gladly tum the decision over to others.

Consu lt

Consulting is a process whereby decision makers invite others to

influenec them before they make their choice. You can consult




with experts, a representative population, or even everyone who

wants to offer an opinion. Consulting can be an efficient way of

gaining ideas and support without bogging down the decision­

making process. At least not too much. Wise leaders, parents,

and even couples frequently make decisions in this way. They

gather ideas, evaluate options, make a choice, and then inform

the broader population.


Voting is best suited to situations where efficiency is the highest

value-and you’re selecting from a number of good options.

Members of the team realize they may not get their first choice,

but frankly they don’t want to waste time talking the issue to

death. They may discuss options for a while and then call for a

vote. When facing several decent options, voting is a great time

saver but should never be used when team members don’t agree

to support whatever decision is made. In these cases, consensus

is required.


This method can be both a great blessing and a frustrating curse.

Consensus means you talk until everyone honestly agrees to one

decision. This method can produce tremendous unity and high­

quality decisions. If misapplied, it can also be a horrible waste of

time. It should only be used with ( 1 ) high-stakes and complex

issues or (2) issues where everyone absolutely must support the

final choice.


Now that we know the four methods, let’s explore which method

to use at which time-along with some hints about how to avoid

common blunders.




Four Important Questions

When choosing among the four methods of decision making,

consider the following questions.

1 . Who cares? Determine who genuinely wants to be involved

in the decision along with those who will be affected. These

are your candidates for involvement. Don’t involve people

who don’t care.

2. Who knows? Identify who has the expertise you need to

make the best decision. Encourage these people to take

part. Try not to involve people who contribute no new


3 . Who must agree? Think of those whose cooperation you

might need in the form of authority or influence in any

decisions you might make. It’s better to involve these

people than to surprise them and then suffer thei

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