But in his inaugural address, President Obama offered a time-tested decision-making approach with lessons for us all:
"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end."First, he reframes the traditional conversation by introducing a new core question: does government work? Second, he offers some initial criteria for determining what is meant by "working."
If you find yourself engaged in a conversation that has occurred many times before without producing a desirable result, you might try the same. Interrupt the traditional frames for the conversation. Introduce a new question to guide decisions. Reach consensus on success criteria for the new question. Apply this criteria to our various options.
Elements in the proposed stimulus package? A simple criteria: how many jobs will be created. A new program or product for your association or company? Possible criteria: market share gained, number of members served, new audiences reached, etc. Where to go on the family vacation? Well, you get the idea. Without agreement on the criteria we are using to evaluate our options, we are often left only with debate and posturing, neither of which lead to sound decisions or better interpersonal relations.
When we can have true dialogue—conversation that balances advocacy of our own perspectives with inquiry into others—we are more likely to make sound decisions. But doing so almost always requires that we have some generally understood criteria to apply to whatever decision is at hand, forcing people to break out of entrenched positions and engaging them in a unified effort to apply a common standard.