Learning & Development

In Defense of Indecision

Everyone has that friend or acquaintance who simply can’t make up their mind, even when faced with the most trivial choices: “Where should I go for lunch today?” “Should I wear black or khaki today?” “What time should I tell people to show up to the party?”

Is Indecision Annoying?

Most people react with annoyance to indecisiveness. It can be frustrating to wait for someone to make up their mind on something others decide in a split second, and the waffling and back and forth can feel nauseating.

Social annoyance can turn into questions about professional competency when indecisiveness makes its way into the workplace. In advanced economies, businesses are dynamic and fast-paced—they have to be to keep up with ever-changing markets and stiff competition. Failing to take action can be a fatal mistake.

But indecisiveness isn’t always a bad thing.

Sometimes Indecision Can Be Good

Not every decision can or should be made in a split second, even in a fast-paced business environment. Decisions about whether to partner with another business on a new venture, whether to initiate litigation on a supplier or customer or whether to discontinue a particular product line can have enormous consequences for companies and obviously should not be taken lightly. Indecisive people are often better at identifying the various pros and cons involved in a complex decision than their more decisive colleagues.

“Indecisiveness can be linked to problems like anxiety, yet recent research suggests that it can also have an upside,” writes David Robson in an article for BBC Worklife. “It protects us from common cognitive errors like confirmation bias, so that when the person does finally come to a judgement, it is generally wiser than those who jumped to a conclusion too quickly.”

Seeking the Right Balance

Of course, it’s crucial to have some level of balance. Taking one’s time to decide whether to sue a customer makes sense. Taking the same amount of time to decide whether to highlight and bold sections of an internal email may not make as much sense.

Employees should be coached to think carefully about the big decisions and be more decisive when the stakes are lower and speed and agility are important.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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