“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child…..Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” 1 Kings 3:7.9

There is an expression which is used to describe people who instinctively make the right decision. It’s the French term “savoire faire”, and it means knowing what to do under the circumstances. You might have encountered someone with this gift. I wish I had it.  But most of us struggle making good decisions, particularly those big or critical ones.

For context, studies show that the next generation makes decisions based on emotion or whatever feels right. It’s subjective, not objective. They eschew decisions based on values, facts, science, reason or objective data. It’s a slippery slope, but it’s the slope that the next generation is camped on.

My friend, Jolene Erhlacher, recently did presentations to millennials on several college campuses. She asked the students whether they made decisions based on facts or emotions. Not surprisingly, approximately 80% said they based their decisions on emotion.

Vernon Law is quoted as saying: “Experience is a hard teacher because you get the test first and the lesson afterwards.” For many of us, we wish we had gotten the lesson before the experience. What is a better way to make good decisions other than basing them on what feels good?

Several principles may help the next generation (and the rest of us who don’t have savoire faire), particularly when a decision is in a gray area where there is no clear black and white. Here are some things that helped me deal with controversial or gray area decisions:

  1. Look for the big picture. An engineer client had a built-in prism in his mind when he made decisions. When held up to light, a prism displays a rainbow of colors. When it came to a decision, he would mentally hold his prism up to the light to see what color would come out.  He would get input from others and I watched him taking that input as if it was sunlight as he turned the prism in his head.  Put another way, try to see the big picture, not just from your vantage point but with input from others – particularly a mentor. It will help you see an issue from a perspective that you might not have on your own. Hearing the “other side” to a decision may not change the outcome, but at least you will have considered all sides. As I have often said, it’s what we don’t know that hurts us, so seeking counsel of others may help avoid making a poor decision.I wrote about this in a post entitled We is Better than Me which described the pitfalls of going it alone in life.
  2. Assume the best in others. This is a John Maxwell idea: treat everyone with respect and honor and don’t burn bridges. He usually took the high road, often when it was not deserved by others.  That means you “need to believe the best about others”, as Tim Elmore puts it. Granted, people will let you down, but in the long run, showing confidence in someone pays dividends. My wife is the best at this. She is such a positive person that she always sees the good in everyone.
  3. Think long-term. This was drilled into me by a friend of mine, Floyd Green, who was part of a group of men that I met with consistently for 25 years. We were the “spiritual board of directors” for each other. Floyd maintained that best decisions were made when he looked at the long-term consequences rather than the short-term benefit. It’s easy to make knee jerk decisions based on short-term results, without considering all the facts. Advertisers presses us to think about only today. Sadly, that pressure has resulted in huge student debt which now approaches $1.4 trillion dollars in the U.S. Students bought into the message of “Learn now; pay later” without thinking about what the cost will be later.
  4. Seek a win-win solution. Life is really a constant negotiation if you think about it. Just think about how a group decides where you might go out to eat. You put your preferences out there, but often you don’t get your way. I went through a workship on negotiation during my law career. One of the exercises involved a set of facts about a certain transaction between two parties. You were instructed to negotiate on behalf of one of the parties to get the best result for your party. Your workshop opponent in the exercise was instructed to do the same for the opposite party. You were free to choose your specific negotiating style.  One style might be to negotiate in a way so that you would only accept total victory and not make any concessions to the other side. That’s a win-lose Not surprisingly, the most successful results were achieved when the participants negotiated with a win-win style. This forces you to think about the other sides goals and objectives and to try to to develop ideas that will benefit each party.
  5. Do the “right” thing. If a decision involves choosing between doing the right thing or cutting a corner by doing something that advances your interests ahead of another inappropriately, my personal experience is that you are better off doing the right thing, even if it is inconvenient. Some decisions may affect everyone but may not please everyone. Using your power or position to take advantage of another is not the right thing. For me, let’s just say you sleep better at night.
  6. Pray for Wisdom. Most Christians would agree that Solomon was one of the wisest people in Scripture. Yet, even he felt intimidated about making decisions as a young King.  Solomon’s prayer for wisdom is found in 1 Kings 3. He needed guidance from above, and so do we. The Holy Spirit is a great resource and we often overlook His guidance. I prayed Solomon’s prayer daily during my career because my day consisted of having to make important decisions affecting my clients or staff that were difficult or complicated.

Our challenge is to help the next generation advance beyond their default emotional decision-making process. Seven decades on this earth has taught me that decisions based on a feel-good or emotional bases are often disasters.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Helping your mentee make better decisions may be one of the highest and best uses of a mentor. Your experience, objectivity and perspective may be an invaluable resource to a generation that defaults to making decisions on emotion.

FURTHER STUDY:  Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom:

Iain King wrote a book entitled “How to Make Decisions – And Be Right All the Time.”  The last part of the title is intentional satire because it is impossible to be right all the time. A summary of the book can be found here.

A post on “We is Better than Me“: the benefits of having a close friend or mentor in your life:

WORSHIP:  The song “Lord, I need you” by Chris Tomlin reminds us how much we need God’s help in making decisions: Chris Tomlin – Lord I Need You – YouTube

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6 thoughts on “Decisions

  1. […] is extremely important to understand for millennials who live in a world where emotion drives their decisions because things seem to “feel good.”  But that “reality” may be framed from a narrow […]

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