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Rational Decision Making Study Guide (page 3)

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Updated on Sep 19, 2011

Watch Out for Ego

Some friends decide to go hiking in the mountains. They're all inexperienced hikers, so they choose an easy trail. Half way up the trail, a storm rolls in and it gets darker as a torrential downpour begins. Most of the group decides to head back down the trail, but two people decide to keep going. They laugh about the "quitters," and boast that a storm can't hold them back. Instead of thinking rationally, they let their egos make the decision so they'll appear strong and fearless. Unfortunately, they put themselves, and whoever will have to come and rescue them, at risk of serious harm.

Every individual should have a healthy vision of his or her abilities, strengths, and shortcomings. Trouble comes when that vision is inflated and it becomes a part of the decision-making process. The two hikers' choice to continue hiking and to ignore their own limitations was based on ego.

Business people can also get into trouble with their egos when they worry too much about how they appear to others. For example, a shop owner in a mall is approached by the other shop owners about contributing to a new website to market their businesses. Although she is having cash flow problems and sales are down, she gives them $10,000, just to "prove" that her business is doing well and she has the money. Like the hikers, she makes a decision based on ego. As a result, she must borrow money to pay her rent and utilities and cannot order the inventory she needs.

Ego can also get in the way and cause someone not to take action. For example, Andi's coworker comments that Andi has too many spelling errors in the weekly reports she submits to their department supervisor. Andi becomes defensive and merely dismisses the comment. However, the complaint is valid and indicates a problem that Andi could easily correct by taking the time to run her report through spellcheck. By dismissing the criticism, Andi loses the opportunity to make a small change and improve her image on the job. She should take the criticism objectively and determine what action she needs to take.

In Short

When making decisions, do not ignore your feelings. As you go through the logical steps toward making a choice, acknowledge emotions and, based on the type, decide whether they are appropriate to include in the decision-making process. Even negative feelings, such as bias and stereotyping, need to be recognized so you can consciously exclude them. Acknowledging emotions, rather than letting them take over, or trying to ignore them, will help you improve your critical-thinking skills.

Skill Building Until Next Time

  • The next time you attend a sporting event, or watch one on television, pay attention to the fans when the umpire or referee makes a call. Do the fans decide rationally whether the call is fair or not? How do they let their emotions participate in the way they behave?
  • Think of a situation that makes you angry, whether it is listening to an opposing political group's speeches, reading a particular columnist in the newspaper, or even going to a sale at your favorite store in which the merchandise was marked up in price before it was marked down. How could you allow your emotions to negatively influence the situation? How could you use them positively?

Exercises for this concept can be found at Rational Decision Making Practice Exercises.

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