How to make tough choices

Put yourself in others' shoes

Not all decisions are black and white—particularly when it comes to ones that significantly affect external parties, a professor of business ethics at Harvard University writes in the Harvard Business Review

"It is tempting to think that if you can just get the right information and use the right analytics, you can make the right decision," Joseph Badaracco writes. "But serious problems are usually gray. By themselves, tools and techniques won't give you answers. You have to use your judgment and make hard choices."

Numbers can't make a decision for you. To do that, Badaracco writes, you need to consider an ancient piece of advice: "That which is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor," said Hillel the Elder, an ancient Hebrew philosopher and theologian. 

Help faculty see the big picture of university operations

Today's common version of that advice is the well-known "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

"It pushes us to think imaginatively and sympathetically about the experiences of others as a way of understanding what our core human obligations require in a particular situation," Badaracco writes. 

When managers and teams are working on gray-area issues, they must listen to the opinions of those whose lives and livelihoods will be affected by whatever choice is made.

Alternatively, decision makers can ask an internal person to role-play the outsiders and represent their interests.

"Don't think your position in society or in an organization exempts you from basic human duties. Don't get trapped in your own interests, experiences, judgments, and ways of seeing the world. Do everything you can to escape from your egocentric prison," Badaracco writes (Badaracco, Harvard Business Review, 8/25). 


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