Several weeks ago, my wife and I decided to go out for dinner and a movie. On our way, we drove by a soccer game between the state team and my wife’s school. A decision point came up: should we stop, change our plans and watch a soccer game instead of our previous plans?
These kinds of snap decisions are difficult for us to make. But why? Why do we have a hard time quickly deciding on a different course of action that could result in a unique and enjoyable evening? I’m sure some of this has to do with the inertia of uncertainty, but I also think that changing a course of action is very difficult once you’ve already taken one tack.
We kept our existing plans rather than change as it was too hard to decide if we should stop and we had a fun time together. I feel reasonable sure that we would have also had a very enjoyable time at the soccer game as well. Interestingly her school beat the state team which says something probably about the quality of our state team.
There is a mental pain in trying to change a foregone conclusion all at once. This happens in far more scenarios than what should we do for an evening. Suppose you are in a discussion with a colleague and you’ve shown them some problem in their thinking. Do you push forward to try to get them to change their mind faster searching for surrender, or do you back off and let them digest the new information. Taking the former action will typically cause you, ironically, to lose ground. It will no longer be about what’s right and instead be about winning and the other person will resist you like a cornered snake. Their mind needs time to accept the alternative and to consider it. Better to give them space.
Or, turn the tables, your colleague has just shown you the error of your ways and you realize that they are right, but you don’t feel sure. Your brain is changing gears and they are forcing you to do it without engaging the clutch. You hear and feel the grind. You might be tempted to resist at this point on some spurious argument unrelated to the real issue, better is to recognize that you need time to digest this and ask for it.
Finally, recognize that mental discomfort does not mean something is wrong. We need to be willing to confront this and consider the alternative rather than simply rejecting it because it’s too hard to consider. Good leaders don’t take yes for an answer and desire to find where there thinking is wrong, they also need to gird themselves up for the mental pain that will accompany the change.