Monday, March 16, 2009 by Dave Blum

My wife, Jen, and I have a little dance we do at the video shop.  I don’t mean that we break out the foxtrot or the cha cha (although Blockbuster is big enough for such a performance).  What I mean is that we have our own video shop “relationship dance”, which tends to go something like this:

Dave:  Hey Hon, have you seen this one?
Jen:  No, do you want to rent it?
Dave:  Oh, I’ve already seen it.  But let me tell you about it.  There’s this guy who…
Jen:  I thought we were here to pick a movie that you haven’t seen.
Dave:  Yeah, but it’s so fun to talk about movies!
Jen:  How about we just concentrate on picking a film that we actually want to rent, rather than discussing every movie that you’ve enjoyed in the last 10 years?
Dave:  All right, spoil-sport.   Well, I’d like to see this one, and this one, and that one…oh, and that one over there.  Gosh, there are so many–I can’t choose.  Can we rent them all?
Jen:  And watch movies for the next 10 hours?  I don’t think so!

And so it goes…for the next 45 minutes…until we suddenly realize it’s become too late to even watch a movie. Clearly we need to agree on a decision-making process!

Fortunately, there’s some great literature on the topic.  One of the most straight-forward discussions about decision making can be found in the insightful book Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. The authors suggest these 4 models:

1) Command: Someone from “on high” makes the decision without involving others.

2) Consult:  Input is gathered from the group and fed to consultants, delegates, representatives, etc. — a “subset” who makes the decision.

3) Vote:  An agreed-upon percentage determines the decision.

4) Consensus:  The whole group comes to an agreement, through discussion, and commits to supporting the decision.

In the case of Dave and Jen at the video shop, the four models might look like this:

Command:  “I choose the movie tonight.  You choose next time.”
Consult:  “Let’s discuss our choices with the guy at the cash register and let him chose the best movie for us.”
Vote:  “Let’s pick our top five and vote on them.”
Consensus:  “How about this one…no, I like that one…”  45 minutes elapse before an agreement is hammered out.

What we came up with:    These days, both Jen and I pick the movies that we would most like to watch (limit 5 movies per person).  After 10 minutes, we meet in the center of the video shop and put all our DVD choices in a stack. I rank the 10 movies in the order of my preference; Jen does the same.  The highest-preferred movie to overlap on both our rankings is the one we choose.  So for example, if #3 on both our lists is, say, Saving Private Ryan, then that’s our movie–decision made.  It’s sort of a vote, combined with a consult (we allow the process to make the decison).  In any case, it works;  within 15 minutes, we’re in and out of the shop and heading home for movie night.  There might even be time for dancing. 🙂