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How Can You Make Joint Decisions When You Have Fundamentally Different Decision-Making Criteria?

My husband is a Certified Financial Planner. I have little to no acuity when it comes to analyzing spreadsheets to make unbiased decisions based on numbers. I tend to go by my gut. As you can imagine, our recent conversations about whether or not to purchase a specific investment property in a local ski town became tense. We had very different lenses we were looking, listening and speaking through.

What people think about, know about and care about impacts what they pay attention to, what they talk about and how they speak about it. It also impacts how they make decisions by consciously or unconsciously forming their decision-making criteria.

As a team, or in any collaborative conversation, if we don’t clearly identify decision-making criteria, each individual’s unspoken preferences will likely impede productive conversations where efficient decisions are essential. If we all come from different perspectives regarding what’s most important to consider, conflict arises and tends to slow things down. How we address and manage conflict is critically important to successful outcomes.

There is a widely held misconception that people either listen or they don’t. However, that’s a rudimentary understanding of the science of listening. Research shows that listening is a brain-based function and over time we develop habits and preferences that impact how we think and how we speak, which influences how we make decisions. Given that listening is habit-based, it means that we can shift our listening when we have an awareness that our default preferences aren’t the most valuable for the given situation.

The ECHO Listening Profile is an assessment tool that can help individuals identify their unique listening habits and better understand others and what’s important to them.

If I didn’t have an understanding of my husband’s listening habits and what he cares about when making decisions, our conversations would likely lead to many more disagreements, frustration, impatience etc. Instead, I’m able to use his analytical listening approach to help me come to more informed decisions using data to support my gut instincts. Data that would not have occurred to me to seek and/or evaluate.

The four main listening habits identified in the research and development of the ECHO Listening Profile apply very different filters to what people listen to and for. At a very high level, the habits have an external focus, internal focus, facts and data and big picture and abstract ideas.

My husband is highly Analytical in his listening and has little tolerance for half-baked ideas and opinions that lack evidence and credibility behind them. I tend to overlook details in favor of how I feel about things and whether or not I like the people involved. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have been known to pay more for certain things because I’ve liked one salesperson over another.

All four habits have distinct recommendations for advancing the quality of conversations and more constructively managing differences in thinking and improving listening agility. Here are some very simple tips for different listeners:

Connective listeners tend to listen for feelings over facts.

Tip: Listen to what’s being said versus who is saying it. Consider all viewpoints without bias towards those coming from whom you like and trust. Seek and think through various perspectives and gather information to support decision making.

Reflective listeners tend listen for how the information applies to them personally.

Tip: Take your own personal interests out of the equation. When solution-oriented thinking is called for, think through the lens of what is ultimately at stake and who is impacted. Solicit input from others and factor that into your own internal vetting process harnessing collective brainpower to innovate and solve problems.

Analytical listeners care about evidence and accuracy, the data and the details.

Tip: Acknowledge that not all problems and scenarios are black and white. Ask others what their decision-making criteria is, keeping an open mind and willingness to leave some questions unanswered when stakes and outcomes are less critical. Be aware of how you ask questions and make statements, knowing that some people may misinterpret your genuine fact-finding as challenging or critical.

Conceptual listeners filter through a focus on the future and the big picture, making connections between disparate ideas that may not necessarily be obvious to others.

Tip: Listen without offering suggestions or quickly sharing what comes to mind. Your input is necessary and valuable, however, before sharing, allow for details to unfold that will provide structure to your idea-generation. Jumping in too quickly with ideas may be distracting from the issue at hand.

Ultimately, by gaining greater self-awareness and an understanding of the listening habits of our colleagues, clients and loved ones, we can quickly dissolve assumptions we’ve formed that make it difficult to come to mutual understanding and productive outcomes, especially in difficult conversations. By acknowledging that we often misperceive the intentions of others based on the statements they make, the questions they ask and how they speak, we become more curious about the meaning behind what they’re saying, setting aside our opinions and explanations about them.

On a final note, Brad and I still haven’t committed to a decision about the condo. We have many conversations about it over the course of the day. While we might not always agree, the beauty of our differences is that we consider the decision from many different angles while appreciating the value in the other’s perspective. If I get my way, we buy it because it’s cool, we can get away together and ride our mountain bikes in the hills and it might have great potential maybe. If he gets his way, the numbers make sense and we are guaranteed to profit. If we get our way, we have an opportunity to spend quality time together in a beautiful place and the spreadsheets confirm it’s a sound, evidence based, well thought out decision.

If you’re interested in learning more about listening preferences or to schedule a training for your team, check out this workshop on Conversational Agility designed to provide the tools needed to improve the quality of conversations that lead to better collaborative decision making.

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