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Both of these problems are solved if, before making a decision,

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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.




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.

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