by When I was young, my first decision partner was my twin sister. Our most complicated decision was whether to go roller skating or biking.
Today, as adults,we make thousands, possibly even tens of thousands decisions everyday. Everything from small decisions—whether to sleep 5 more minutes or get up, to wear the white shirt or the grey one, answer that phone call or let it go to voicemail—to large ones—whom to marry, how much to invest in stocks and bonds, and which nursing home is the best choice for our aging parents. Researches at Cornell found that in a single day, people make an average of 226.7 decisions about food alone1. And that’s only one category! Even the words on this page are a series of deliberate decisions about word choice and sentence structure.
Decision making is a fundamental part of life, and whether we realize it or not, many of our decisions are made with the help of a decision partner.
What is a Decision Partner?
I’m defining a decision partner as anyone who helps us to formulate a decision that leads to action. Or no action if you decide NOT to do something. Decision partners are people in our life who we depend on to help us make an important decision. When you need to bounce ideas off of someone, who do you go to?
There are two types of decision partners: Personal decision partners such as friends, parents, siblings, or a spouse; and professional decision partners: an accountant, doctor, lawyer, architect, or financial advisor. The common threads; trust, competence, and likability.
Decisions partners can also be distinguished between temporary and long-term. We can have many decision partners throughout our life, and we have many temporary ones throughout the day. For example, when I go swimming at my local YMCA, I often see people going up to the person behind the front counter and asking about the pool, the gym, and monthly memberships. In that moment, the Y employee is their temporary decision partner because the employee is sharing information and helping the person decide whether or not to join the gym. Having a temporary decision partner is as simple as asking the waitress to recommend a dish from the menu or a bookstore employee to suggest a good novel. On the other hand, long-term decision partners are the people we continuously go to for advice. By mutual consent, their role has been established. That is until their trust, competence or likability is compromised.
Why Are They Helpful?
Hopefully, most of us have at least one person we can go to for advice. I personally need a decision partner to be a “sounding board” as I talk. More often than not, just the simple act of voicing my thoughts as someone listens brings clarity. I’m grateful that my wife has assumed that role now for more than 37 years.
Furthermore, a professional decision partner ought to be able to give objective advice that’s in the best interest of their client. This is especially so when a decision is laden with emotion, as is often the case regarding financial decisions. Whether it’s giving the client a chance to discuss why they want to invest in a risky stock, or why they have no will in place, there is value to having impactful conversations which results in decision clarity. It’s not easy, but it is important.
Decision partners—good decision partners—can help keep us stay grounded and objective as we navigate difficult and emotional decision-making.
1 Wansink, Brian and Jeffrey Sobal (2007), “Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook,” Environment and Behavior 39:1, 106-123