When my three kids were young, Toys R Us was one of their favorite outings. Not so much for me. Don’t get me wrong–I enjoyed being in on the big reward for saving up their allowance and redeeming Grandpa and Grandma’s gift certificates. (They didn’t have gift cards back then.)

The not-so-much-fun part was running the zone defense with their dad and not letting it turn into a half-day ordeal. John covers Patrick and Timmy; I stay with Kelsey, the youngest. And the easiest.

Kelsey races ahead of me just enough to test the “No running!” rule. She knows what she wants, where it is in the store, and goes directly there. The My Little Pony section. Score! She grabs the purple one and hugs the box.

“Mommy! It’s not ‘the purple one.’ It’s Princess Twilight Sparkle. Can I open it now?”

“Not now. Let’s go see what the boys are getting.”

Patrick is into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and, like his sister, bee-lined it to that section of the store with Dad and Timmy in tow. Patrick has his selection in hand: accessories galore for his existing characters. Great. More vacuum cleaner food, I think, but don’t say anything.

Dad is already presenting other options.

“Look Patrick, the turtle stuff over here is on sale.” He throws in a few percentage savings calculations and what-if scenario comparisons that he does in is head. (No cell phone calculators back then, and besides, my husband’s an engineer.)

“I don’t care. I don’t want that stuff. I want these. They goes with my collection,” Patrick declares.

Two down, one to go!

Where’s Timmy?

Our zone defense always did need some work. I flashback to when Kelsey was first born, when we piled the family into the car, and, as we begin to backout of the driveway, Patrick asks, “Where’s the baby?” Horror stricken parents look at each other and then we laugh. She was on the front porch, asleep in her car seat, right where we had put her down to lock the front door.

Back to Toys R Us. Timmy has not wandered far. He’s still in our aisle, down at the end, checking out all kinds of action figures, moving toward the Micro Machines.

 Ugh. Not more vacuum cleaner food?

I follow him past the teeny tiny cars, but now it looks like he’s headed for the Lego section. (Do I have to say it?)

“Oh, Timmy, this one looks like fun,” I suggest, pointing out a kit with larger blocks. “Do you want to get some Legos?”

“I don’t know yet. I’m still looking.”

And looking. And looking. And looking.

Meanwhile, the other two kids have talked their dad into paying for their toys and are opening their packages while their brother continues to look. And look. And look.

Arghhhh! Decide already! What is wrong with this boy?


He just has a different style from, well, the rest of the family. Not right, not wrong. Just different. And the more I pushed or suggested items, the slower Timmy got. I wish I’d known then what I know now about about influencing choice and making decisions.

It is this:  You default to your own style, crafting your message or presentation with content that would convince you, not necessarily anyone with a different style. And that means your message might be missing the critical details or motivators that will trigger the decision you’re looking for.

So, how do you accept and adjust to a different style so that you connect to what’s important to them, not just you?

Know Thyself, With Caution

Knowing whether you’re more decisive (me) or more open ended (Timmy) is a good start. So is recognizing whether you are the proverbial left brained, right brained style of communicator.

BE CAREFUL! I was shocked by what I learned about my right brained self, about how I make decisions, how my opposites make theirs and what I (and anyone like me) must always do to influence choice.

I learned it when the entire staff at my ad agency and marketing firm took the Myers-Briggs personality-style tests, and then we brought in a facilitator to help us understand the “so what” of the various types.

Knowing each of our “types,” the facilitator asked four people to come to the front of the room for a demonstration. A demonstration of what, no one knew. He sends Bridget and Christopher out of the room, telling them they’ll be a part of demonstration No. 2. Dean and Janet stay at the front of the room, and each is given a felt-tip marker to use on the blank flip chart between them.

The scenario: Dean and Janet are co-captains of a seven-member sales team. The team is “this close” to winning the year-end, top sales prize of an all-expenses-paid Caribbean cruise. But there’s a problem. The recent merger made it necessary to slash the budget. Now, only five of the seven sales team members can go on the trip. Yikes.

“Dean and Janet, how will you decide which five of the seven members of your sales team get to go on the trip? Use the flip chart to note your ideas,” the facilitator instructs.

Dean and Janet come up with several ideas:

  • Seniority
  • Create a score based on volume of sales, length of service, degree of sales difficulty.
  • Product knowledge quiz
  • Draw straws
  • Rock/paper/scissors

I nod in agreement that all the ideas sounded like a fair way to make a difficult decision. Dean and Janet take their seats.

Next Contestant Please

The facilitator removes the flip chart page with Dean and Janet’s notes, then invites Bridget and Christopher back into the room. He hands each of them a felt-tip marker and gives them the exact same scenario.

“Bridget and Christopher, how will you decide which five of the seven members of your sales team go on the trip? Use the flip chart to note your ideas,” he says.

I am curious to see how many of the same ideas come up. Perhaps they’ll come up with even more ways to decide between the seven people. In fact, maybe that’s the point of the exercise–to demonstrate how important it is to involve as many people as possible in creating solutions?


Bridget looks at Christopher and says, “I don’t have to go.”

“Me neither,” Christopher says, adding a shoulder shrug.

End of discussion. Done. No flip chart required. They look at the facilitator in anticipation of the next question or scenario, surprised when he says they can take their seats.

I am speechless. Dean and Janet’s list made total sense. What in the world were Bridget and Christopher thinking?

They weren’t thinking. They were feeling.

And that was the point of the exercise: to demonstrate two diametrically different ways of making decisions.

Thinkers and Feelers

Which pair do you relate to?

Thinkers like Dean and Janet can be objective and impersonal. They like to analyze pros and cons, and then be consistent and logical in making a decision. Thinkers won’t let their own personal wishes, nor other people’s wishes, influence them. Telling the truth (even the cold, hard kind) is more important than being tactful.

Feelers à la Bridget and Christopher tend to be more subjective, even sympathetic. They make decisions by weighing what people care about, and they will consider various points-of-view, not just their own. Feelers are seen as warm, diplomatic and caring. Harmony is a major driver. They’re good at establishing it and maintaining it–even if it means staying behind when the ship sails.

And that’s what was so shocking–to me, anyway. There I was nodding right along, relating to the Thinkers. Not the Feelers. How could that be?

I had been the poster child for the Right Brain/Intuitive exercise that had preceded this one. Now I’m all logical and rational? Surely, I thought, Left Brains are Thinkers. Right Brains must certainly be Feelers. The two (or four?) go together like popcorn and butter.

Wrong, again.

First of all, the whole left brain, right brain thing is about information intake, not about decision making.

When it comes to listening, reading or information gathering, Lefties focus on and look for the facts, data and details. They listen and look for what’s practical and real, actual and tangible. Structure, process and standard operating procedures are important to them. Ask Lefties to describe what they see in a picture and you’ll get an itemized list. Here and now, “what is”- that’s the filter through which Lefties gather information. That doesn’t automatically make them Thinkers when it comes making decisions, however.

Right-brained people might hear or read the exact same information and marvel at the insight and inspiration behind it. They look for meaning and association, the possibilities and potential opportunity. Ahh, the future! They can’t help but think conceptually, appreciating theory and speculation. Ask Righties to describe what they see in a picture, and they’ll give it context, tell you a story. Their focus is on “what might be” when they are taking information in. Don’t assume that makes them Feelers when it comes to making decisions, though.

What can you do about what you know?

The magic is in the mix. If you’re a thinker, make sure your message connects to those decision makers whose feelings overrule facts. If you’re a feeler, make sure your message includes logical reasons that make sense, or can be supported by research.

If you’re a left-brained person (37 percent of Americans*), you need to put those statistics into context and make them more powerful with a story or analogy. If you’re a right-brained person (29 percent of Americans*), you need to find the statistics, facts, and details that support your intuitive hunch or innovative idea. As I just did there.

Essentially, you’re pushing for balance. Balance is good. Balance works. It covers all the bases, regardless of style. If you weren’t born that way (33 percent of Americans*), you may feel wobbly at first, being a bit outside your comfort zone. But it’s worth it, because the decision that’s made is more likely to be a win-win.

Even for Timmy. He settled on a Frisbee, and the board game Sorry.

“The whole family can play this one, Mommy,” he says. “And look, all the colored pieces come in their own little bag.”

My little Feeler. He knew exactly what I was thinking.

*According to a study of 160,000 Americans cited in the Huffington Post, 10/29/13.

4 Responses to “How Do You Make Decisions? (And Why It Matters)”

    • Terrilang

      Thank you, Catherine. I don’t usually make ’em this long, but my kids (now adults) haven’t rolled their eyeballs at me for using them as material in a while. It was time. Hubby will respond after he fact checks my statistics.

  1. Steve Weber

    Brilliant! “Not right, not wrong. Just different.” … Taking the time to understand others seems to be the trick. Not easy. But worth it.

    • Terrilang

      Thank you Steve. In your presentations, I know you quote your “mama” and her famous “life is a box of chocolates” analogy. My mama asked me, in the midst of my eldest’s 2-year-old tantrum, “What’s it like raising yourself?” Same or different, you’re right, it’s worth taking the time to understand.


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