The Question of Judgement, part two: Bad Judgement

What are the obstacles to good judgement?  Where does bad judgement come from?  

Some of the answers were suggested in part one.  

A lot of errors of judgement come from failing to focus on what’s important.  The ability to realize what the key elements are in a given situation is remarkably rare, and people often focus on secondary or peripheral matters.  This is usually just a lack of clear thinking and of analytical ability; but it’s sometimes because people have pre-conceived notions drawn from experience in other situations, which leads them to fail to realize that the situation before them is different; or sometimes they’re just on a sort of automated track, where in any given situation they always do the same thing.  But the ability to strip things to their essential kernel is a very valuable management skill, and not many people have it.

A lack of insight into people is also a key element in bad judgement.  Some people’s ability to assess the skills, personalities, and attitudes of others is low or non-existent; they seem completely unaware of characteristics in people that are obvious to others.  This can be extremely damaging to successful management, for the reasons outlined in part one.

Another factor is the lack of an analytical orientation.  Failing to take all available relevant information into account, and to assess it properly and objectively, can also be fatal to good judgement.  Making decisions on a whim, on the basis of personal preferences, or due to some vague impression of what would be a good idea, are extreme examples of this; they are no substitute for thoughtful, objective analysis.  An excessive emphasis on social considerations also often leads people to neglect proper analysis.

Another obstacle to good judgement is the tendency that many people exhibit to think only for the very short term.  Many managers’ goal is to find an immediate solution to an immediate problem − often just a bandage; and some operate almost exclusively by reacting to situations that arise.  This is, to a certain extent, due to the massive time pressures that people face in organizations today; but it’s also a natural tendency for many people.  It’s important to remember, though, that many decisions have long-term consequences and implications; thinking about such consequences and long-term effects, and putting decisions and situations into a broader and longer-term context, can give people much better judgement.

There are also other factors that go into bad judgement.  People sometimes make decisions on the basis of their own convenience rather than the interests of the organization.  For example, some people hire lower-quality employees because talented ones make them feel threatened; or they organize the office in such a way as to minimize work or to make it not too challenging.  Such an approach is unlikely to lead to good decision-making.

Bad judgement can also arise from the tendency of some to make decisions in such a way as to satisfy their own emotional needs.  For instance, some people have a grossly exaggerated self-image, and use the workplace to attempt to bridge the cognitive dissonance that results from it by, for example, refusing to take input from others because it implies that they’re not perfect themselves, or by hiring flatterers who stroke their egos instead of more qualified people.  Some people shut down communication by being overly hierarchical, often because of excessive conformism.

And of course, some people just don’t think straight.  More on that next time. 

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