How you really decide

As the new UK PM Theresa May travels between EU leaders to ‘negotiate’ Brexit …the speed of Article 50 implementation….and all the other ‘exit’ details, she and the people she has to speak to  will have to make a lot of decisions. So it is interesting to remind ourselves of the truth behind complex human decision making: What should I do about this? : What is she thinking?  What do I want? Why do I want it? ……………………………How do we really ‘decide’?

Rational thought? …actually its largely an illusion

On the surface there is the official, written down, formal decision making process.. “Give us the all facts and we’ll decide!” The imagined process is that a draft proposal on some topic or other is arrived after initial discussions between relatively junior people on the opposing teams. This is made into some sort of hardcopy document which is then presented to ‘the next level up’ in the organisation. These middle management ‘officials’ then consider the proposal and send it back for tweaking after which it is resubmitted and ,if OK, passed to the next level up in the hierarchy and so on upwards and upwards until it reaches the boss.

If all is OK the boss will then sign it……..or if not he/she will send it back down the formal chain for further tweaking. And so it goes on backwards and forwards until everybody is happy. When that happens the boss will finally sign it and the decision will have been made.

That at least is the theory.

The reality (The neuro science) is quite different: facts are (in fact), very rarely , the basis for making decisions.  In fact the more valid reasons (or arguments) you use to try to persuade the other side about the reasonableness of your proposal the LESS likely you are to persuade them. This is because (Psychologists tell us) a weak argument always dilutes a strong one.

So the first rule to apply when trying to get someone to ‘decide’ in your favour is to concentrate on preferably just one strong argument. If you feel you must add something else to justify your proposal you may expand that to two strong reasons. And maybe…only maybe….if you’re really experienced just possibly three strong reasons…………BUT THAT’s IT!  Because facts are not very persuasive.

And once you have decided on the strong argument you will use, then look for the emotional triggers you can build your arguments around.

New research over the past decade shows that just about all (ALL) human decisions are driven not by facts but by EMOTIONS.  We make most of our decisions on the basis of likeability, feelings, friendships, familiarity, passion, desire. Very few important decisions are fact or ‘evidence or fact  based’. Even in a court of law good looking criminals get away with serious crimes because people (juries) just like the look of them.

And this isn’t new either; reflect on the culture some of the World’s most ancient civilisations in the Middle and Far East …..from Egypt to China.  In this 21st Century, to get natives of any countries in these areas to decide to do business with you, then you must first get them to like you. In order to do this you must first spend a considerable amount of time in their company NOT talking about the business you have in mind or the decisions you would like them to make. Only when they ‘have the measure of you’ and get to know you will they entertain the possibility of being persuaded by you. The informal structure which actually gets things done is always far more important than the ‘formal’ political hierarchy. And it isn’t JUST in these ancient cultures either….it is actually the same across all cultures but we just don’t admit it; Who ever said, “Its not WHAT you know but WHO you know!”  knew his fellow man alright.

So as you watch Prime Minister Theresa May on her charm offensive in these early days of her Prime Ministership see how she is using this knowledge of human persuasion and decision making. First ‘home’ visits (Charity begins at Home) to Scotland, then Wales and Northern Ireland all potential trip-wires in her quest for control. Not laying down the law about the need for a “UNITED KINGDOM!” but just listening and getting to know the senior people in each of these countries….making friends. Then on to Germany and France not starting negotiations just making friends. She knows it is so HARD to say NO to people that you know’ ….people who like you…even if their driving needs appear different from yours.

So if you too want to become a similar expert in the field of persuasive, human, decision-making, just follow these 10 steps: You will be amazed at the impact they will have on your life when dealing with other people:

  • Give honest and sincere appreciation
  • Become genuinely interested in other people
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
  • Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely
  • Show respect for the other person’s feelings – never say “You’re wrong!”
  • If you’re wrong admit it quickly and emphatically.
  • Let the other person do most of the talking
  • Try honestly to see the situation from the other person’s point of view
  • Be sympathetic to the other person’s ideas and desires
  • Let the other person save face


Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]

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