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Elizabeth T. 11.03.2021 9 min read

How to Use Science to Understand Your Decision-Making

Decision making can be fatiguing---or empowering, once you know more about the process. For hiring managers, it’s about choosing the right candidate and giving a great candidate experience. From every touch point, the interviewing process, the pre-employment assessment, to the final decision, it’s all about quality versus quantity. With so many decisions on so many different touch-points during the hiring pipeline----and with so many candidates, colleagues, business goals, and more---how does a person stay sane? What about quality control around decisions? 

Fortunately there’s quite a bit of science that shows what things influence our decision making. 


Paradox of choice

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by too many options in the candidate pool, that’s probably normal. For every job position or job vacancy, there are often several candidates. Google receives more than 2000 applications for a single position. For smaller companies, it also may be overwhelming. 

Psychologist and author Barry Schwarz coined the phrase the paradox of choice. It refers to the phenomenon of experiencing options overload; there are so many choices to choose from that it ends up wasting time, causing stress, and dissatisfaction. Go onto Instagram, Amazon, or Tinder. So many options to follow, buy, or meet someone. Yet the paradox includes wasting time and ultimately causing stress. 

When it comes to hiring and recruiting, a hiring manager may experience the paradox of choice. So many candidates. So many excellent options. So many interesting stories and individuals. Yet how are they supposed to focus on the big picture rather than waste time by obsessing over inconsequential details?


Can too many people ruin the decision-making process?

We tend to think there is a certain value in having various perspectives. But is there a point where the value wears off? Making a decision when many people are involved can create a certain psychological process, group-think. The likelihood of making the objectively best decision decreases in the presence of group-think. What is group-think? It’s when conformity usurps the decision making process. It’s unintentional. Individuals may simply desire to be agreeable or cooperative; they may pressure to conform to the group’s opinion. This kind of desire results in irrational choices as the members don’t fully express their opinions, doubts, or viewpoint.

When it comes to the candidate search, hiring managers may have junior colleagues who may be eager to please and prove themselves. It also could be in a setting of senior leaders. The person with the most power may say their opinion first and others follow that opinion. This creates an anchor, or cognitive bias. So if a senior leader has an unconscious bias during the interview process, this may affect how that candidate and/or other candidates are perceived. 

Girl looking at board with sticky notes- pre-employement-assessment

Can people really rationalize bad decisions in the hiring process? 

A candidate experience is often tantamount in hiring and recruitment. What often gets overlooked is ensuring that decisions on the other side of the table are also balanced. Sometimes people can rationalize bad decisions. One well-known study that demonstrates this is the Asch conformity study.

The Asch conformity experiments, held in the 1950s, revealed that a person’s own opinions ---and interpretation of reality---could be influenced by a group. Research suggests that people are often much more prone to conform than they believe they might be. The experiments would place a student-participant in a room with several people who were “in on” the experiment. They all underwent a “vision test”. At first, the people “in on” the experiment answered the vision statement questions correctly. After awhile, they started giving incorrect answers (as planned by the experimenters). They found that participants changed their own answers on what they were seeing to conform to what the group was “seeing”.  They were willing to ignore their own facts to go along with the group. 

This too can happen during a session when deciding over hiring internally a candidate, when building a team, or when choosing talent acquisition strategies for the next quarter. Decision-making may be influenced by conformity more than we think. 


We can rationalize sub-optimal decision making 

We’re all guilty of rationalizing bad decisions. That third pair of glittery shoes you’ve never worn. You telling yourself hanging out with that particular friend won’t be that energy-draining. When we do something we know is not the best idea or not take action on something we really should, we tend to justify those actions. We put logic to making decisions that hinder ourselves or the goals of a project. 

There are two types of rationalization that you, every talent management expert, and their personal trainer have engaged in: prospective rationalization and retrospective rationalization. The first occurs when you rationalize a decision before making it. “I never buy myself anything nice, so I’m going to purchase this XBox”. The second kind of rationalization happens after a decision has been made. “I turned down the pre-employment assessment update because it’s too time-consuming right now”. Rationalizing is another aspect of decision making that can make less-than-ideal conditions for positive outcomes. 


What are other influences that affect good decision making?

Fear of Change 

You may try something new. It could be a brand-new position. After all, it’s only been about 10 years since a social media manager was created. You could be creating a new position at your company. Or it could overhaul your pre-employment assessment, perhaps choosing one with AI capabilities. Whatever it is, you’re trying something new and that may cause fear of change. Often when we try something new, we fall back into old habits or thought processes. Instead of focusing on what’s changed, focus on the “why”, or the goals of the new change. 


Little Sleep

When you don’t have enough sleep, your decision making abilities dramatically decrease. Research shows that even losing a few hours sleep impairs a person’s judgement and attitude for days after. If you’re conducting a job interview or giving 360 feedback, it’s best to make sure you stay rested. 

Girl lying on the table- pre-employement-assessment

Fearing lack of acceptance 

You may worry about how your colleagues, managers, or executives may perceive you. Decision making that is based in fear of what others may think is not grounded in the right reason. You may ask them what they think and consider their perspectives. At the end of the day, you may know what actually is best. If you notice yourself deeply worried about your decision being accepted, ask why. You may want to lean on the “why”. For example, if you’re pushing a revised diversity agenda, focus on the benefits your company gains, or how it feels good to incorporate more different kinds of people onto a team. 


Lack of confidence

It does take a certain amount of confidence to make a decision. It’s about having more courage to make the right decision rather than worrying about how others perceive your or receive your decision. It’s a tough pill to swallow knowing you may face opposition when rolling out a new talent management software or advocating for more mental health days. You may want to prep some responses and your own verbal response. It can look like “I don’t think this candidate is suitable” or “This candidate needs more employee training”. 


Fear of Failure

Putting yourself out there with a staunch decision is risky. You may fail. But if you’re willing to stand by your decision because you know it's the right one---and will receive recognition for that rightness of it sooner or later---then prepare to face failure. Review your strategies and approaches. Talk with others to strengthen your argument or reason. Then, take it all in stride.



So, what are the skills behind good decision making?


The first step is to acknowledge that anxiety, lack of confidence, or fear of failure is part of the process in making decisions. If there’s a part of you that seeks to lecture, judge, or ridicule yours decisions---or the decisions of others, take a step back. The important thing is to engage and listen to yourself or the other person. Write down a pros and cons list. Do your research. Take some time. Before jumping in and trying to reach a conclusion, the best course of action may just be to listen and hear your junior hiring manager’s pick on the job description. You may want to reassure yourself of other options. In some situations, it may feel like an all or nothing stakes; in reality, there are few of those cases. Ask yourself questions like “What are the options?” “What effect do you have on this process?” To reframe better decision making, you want to consider taking a few steps. 


Identify risks that have become habits

We may not realize it, but we all engage in risky behavior. Over time though, we become immune to the risk because we don’t see the result right away. We eat at a fast food restaurant every few days at work; we know it’s not healthy but it’s convenient and nothing horrible is happening. However over a few months, you may gain weight or see some side effects. Or it may look like pushing off updating the remote employee training program. You avoid the folder every week. Until you’re fully immersed in a global pandemic and the entire workforce is now working from home. Then, well, it’s a problem. Start now with the seemingly-innocuous behaviors to make better decisions. 

Recognize the shortcuts you take

This may seem uncomfortable, but you’re biased. We all are. That’s how our brain helps us navigate around the world. We’re biased to think that green means growth and freshness. We’re not quite objective when we see someone wearing a shirt from our least-favorite sports team. Our minds make shortcuts to help us. These pathways help us make decisions faster. They truly help our lives; otherwise we’d be stuck in details and wasting loads of time. 


In decision making, we’re often looking for context unconsciously. We want to provide context that can help us make a better decision. If you’ve been thinking of flying to an exotic destination and all you keep watching are tourist mugging videos, you may make a different decision. You’ll overestimate the occurrence of mugging. 


So, like identifying the habits that are actually quite risky over a long period of time, track the mental shortcuts you create in a day. This may lead you to understanding assumptions about yourself, your work habits, your colleagues, or job candidate pool. Simply by being more aware that we’re all indeed biased and not 100% objective all the time, serves us to make better decisions. 


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Retorio is a video-based behavioral assessment powered by AI. It uses facial expression, language, gesture, and voice to create a Big 5 Personality profile.

Leading companies leverage Retorio's AI to support their own talent management teams. Our video-based AI was featured in TechCrunch and Süddeutsche Zeitung .

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