With major decisions, the choice to ‘sleep on it’ should just about always be part of the process. The next morning, one can ask all the relevant stakeholders how the potential decision ‘feels’. And if someone has a ‘bad feeling’, maybe they should not be asked to substantiate it
COLUMN - Sleep on it. Really.
The value of the ‘good feeling’
When making decisions, it often comes down to a mix of arguments, intuition and interest. This also applies to major investment decisions. Some factors are ‘emotional’ and therefore not so easy to bring up during discussions. Yet they are important. With major decisions, the choice to ‘sleep on it’ should just about always be part of the process. The next morning, one can ask all the relevant stakeholders how the potential decision ‘feels’. And if someone has a ‘bad feeling’, maybe they should not be asked to substantiate it.
A former, friendly colleague – married, a couple of cute little kids – was considering moving three years ago, to a house ‘out of town'. The house was affordable and offered plenty of space. It had a large yard, and the children could cycle to school. On the other hand, the commuting time would more than double, there was a lot of work to do on the house - and very little to do in the village. Together with his wife he wrote down all the pros and cons, weighed and balanced them and then they took the decision: they went for it.
House for sale
In the meantime, that house is up for sale again. The marriage couldn’t withstand the move, and the forced sale of the house means losing all the way around. During a conversation my former colleague told me how sorry he was about their joint decision. It’s costing him a lot of money, something you really don’t need on top of a divorce.
The crazy thing was that plenty of people in their circle of friends were not at all surprised. Some had predicted that the marriage would likely not withstand so much change. With a shaky relationship, making such a big investment was downright silly. But while it was their friends’ first thought, this perspective had no part in the extensive analysis that the couple themselves had made. They juggled the various factors and weighed them against each other – but overlooked the realisation that they were the most important factor. Perhaps even then it didn’t feel ‘right’ but they were clearly able to convince themselves to the contrary – and then hold on to that perspective stubbornly.
They had agreed that this must not be a ‘feeling’ decision, because that would certainly be foolish. The reality is that precisely the opposite is true. In very complex decisions our conscious, rational thinking is stupidly unable to reach a solution. How, for example, to weigh spacious rooms against boring Sundays in a village? Or make particular investment choices when you will only see the consequences years later? It is now widely proven by science that really complex decisions are best left to the unconscious mind. A number of well-respected researchers have shown its processing power to be more than 100.000 times greater than that of our conscious reasoning. In addition to rational analysis, to 'sleep on it' is therefor a very sensible tactic when dealing with complex matters, leading to far better outcomes than the ‘conscious’ weighing of arguments alone.
Arjan Eleveld is Managing Partner at Jonathan Warner, a company that provides leadership advice for management teams, executive boards and supervisors. Originally he is a psychologist. After studying psychology, Arjan has been active in various places in business. He worked in sales, HR as well as operational positions. In 1998 he joined LTP, an organisation of business psychologists. During his time as Managing Director he founded Jonathan Warner, and has been Managing Partner to date.