Just making a list of pros and cons oversimplifies the process of solving important and emotionally charged issues. For example, it’s too easy to think “How can I favor an option with so few pros and so many cons?” Additionally, simply listing pros and cons often creates adversarial dynamics that thwart creative decision making and undermine effective implementation.
So, when dealing with pros and cons, here’s a proven practice that businesses from startups to Fortune 100 companies have found effective. See the results documented in my book “How Great Decisions Get Made: 10 Easy Steps for Reaching Agreement on Even the Toughest Issues” with Foreword by Margaret Wheatley (American Management Association 2004).
- Start with the status quo option and invite each person to state a con about the status quo (even if they favor it). We start with cons because people have more energy about the negatives of options. Don’t repeat cons that someone has already expressed. That’s redundant information and results in a mental pile up on the option. After everyone has expressed a con, proceed in a similar way to express the pros about the option. Don’t let debate enter the equation. That’s adversarial and literally shifts brain activity to offense or defense and away from learning and creating.
- Proceed with the remainder of the options in a similar way expressing cons and then pros.
- After completing the process for the initial set of options, invite participants to offer any additional options that they feel would better serve what you are hoping to accomplish. Apply the process of expressing cons and pros to any new option.
Since the process takes advocacy of initial positions out of the equation, participants frequently develop improved solutions.