When Decisions are Not Black and White

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.

Theodore Roosevelt

When Decisions are Not Black and White

Wouldn’t it be nice if every issue were black and white—crystal clear?

Every single issue. Every subject. Every day.

It would undoubtedly simplify decision-making, conscience issues, and controversies.

We don’tof course, live in a world where everything is a morass of ambiguity.  But we also understand that not every issue that we face has the same degree of clarity.  Some problems are easier for certain people to grasp and arrive at a decision, and some issues perplex people continuously, and decisions are painfully made.

Ever wonder why some people seem to make huge life decisions with ease and confidence, and others can’t bear to pick between beige and ecru paint?

According to a WSJ health column, the way one sees the world–either in clear black-or-white choices or in more ambivalent shades of gray– affects people’s path in life, including careers and relationships.

Black and White Thinkers

Some people are black and white thinkers, and some are rational thinkers.

Black-and-white thinkers believe in “all or nothing,” “good or bad,” “right or wrong,” “strong or weak,” and “smart or stupid.”  They focus on tangible things that can be seen, heard, or measured. Emotional processes and motives in decisions are practically irrelevant.

Relational Thinkers

As opposed to black and white thinkers, relational thinkers are people who live in the gray area of decision making.

They are relational thinkers, which emphasizes what is most important to this type of thinker – relationship.  Hardly anything is black & white.

Relational thinkers tend to be more flexible in their judgment of actions and people for the sake of the relationship. They are more empathetic, placing themselves in the other’s shoes as much as they can, and sympathetic, by identifying with the emotional struggles of others.  They focus on the “behind the scenes” stuff, such as emotions, thoughts, motives, and desires

Black and White Thinking versus Relational Thinking

Business Leaders and entrepreneurs need to be aware of their own proclivity to thinking, as well as the thinking traits of the people they rely on.   Specific characteristics that business leaders need to identify are:

Indecision.  Do you or the people you rely on suffer from indecision?  Are there decisions that are not made that would catapult the business in a different direction?  Is it fear that is prohibiting decisions from being made?

Right Decisions.  Worry over making the ”right decision” can be crippling.  Often, decision-makers look back on the past and convince themselves that they didn’t make the “right” decision.   And then fall into the self-talk of “what-ifs,” which results in thinking they can’t make any “right” decisions in the future.

Ambivalence.  Ambivalence is the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.  Other words for ambivalence are doubt, hesitation, and fluctuation.  The question for business leaders is: “Do the people you rely on care about the decisions they make?”

The Bible

We are not entirely black and white thinkers or relational thinkers.   However, the more black and white thinking we have, the more likely we are to live strictly by the law—the rules, regulations, standards, and expectations.

In Luke 15:11-32, Luke shares a parable of Jesus that attempts to reach the heart of the black and white thinker (in this parable it is the Pharisee).  This story is of the prodigal son, who was a relational thinker and the older brother who was, like the Pharisees, a black and white thinker.

In this parable, the prodigal son is shown to be the one who did everything wrong, and the older brother did everything right. Yet in the end, it was the older brother and his black and white thinking that was left feeling hurt, and that an injustice was done.

Jesus was inviting all of his listeners to see our relationship with Him and others as one not built on actions and rewards but on forgiveness, love, mercy, and grace—despite the results that our thinking, whether right or wrong, had caused.

Business leaders need to be aware and appreciate the thinking styles of those involved in our businesses.  Each style, or mixture of styles, will often produce different results.  Our job as a leader is to encourage those styles and let them, without your influence, benefit your business. 

And when the results from the decision-making processes create conflicts and discord, as they inevitably will, then promote peace, forgiveness, and understanding.