A case like this is hand-tooled for dialogue. All of the partici
pants need to get their meaning into the pool-including their
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,
MOVE TO ACTION 1 65
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.
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.
Consulting is a process whereby decision makers invite others to
influenec them before they make their choice. You can consult
1 66 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
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
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
HOW TO CHOOSE
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
MOVE TO ACTION 1 67
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