DECIDE HOW TO DECIDE
Both of these problems are solved if, before making a decision,
the people involved decide how to decide. Don’t allow people to
assume that dialogue is decision making. Dialogue is a process
for getting all relevant meaning into a shared pool. That process,
of course, involves everyone. However, simply because everyone
is allowed to share their meaning-actually encouraged to share
their meaning-doesn’t mean they are then guaranteed to take
part in making all the decisions. To avoid violated expectations,
separate dialogue from decision making. Make it clear how deci
sions will be made-who will be involved and why.
When the line of authority is clear. When you’re in a position
of authority, you decide which method of decision making you’ll
use. Managers and parents, for example, decide how to decide. It’s
part of their responsibility as leaders. For instance, VPs don’t ask
hourly employees to decide on pricing changes or product lines.
That’s the leaders’ job. Parents don’t ask small children to pick
their home security device or to set their own curfew. That’s the
job of the parent. Of course, both leaders and parents tum more
decisions over to their direct reports and children when they war
rant the responsibility, but it’s still the authority figure who decides
what method of decision making to employ. Deciding what deci
sions to tum over and when to do it is part of their stewardship.
When the line of authority isn ‘t clear. When there is no clear
l ine of authority, deciding how to decide can be quite difficult.
1 64 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
For instance, consider a conversation we referred to earlier-the
one you had with your daughter’s schoolteacher. Should you hold
your child back? Whose choice is this anyway? Who decides
whose choice it is? Does everyone have a say, then a vote? Is it
the school officials’ responsibility, so they choose? Since parents
have ultimate responsibility, should they consult with the appro
priate experts and then decide? Is there even a clear answer to
this tough question?
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.