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How to Make the Best Decisions

Man in office with fish

Artwork By Anja Bartelt

Playing the devil's advocate can lead to bad decision-making. Here's what's better…

One thing you learn as a social psychologist is that we all have biased and inflated beliefs about our own rationality and independence. We all think that we assess information fairly and rationally and that our knowledge coupled with good intentions will lead to good decisions. What social psychology teaches you is that you, like everyone else, select information and consider alternatives in a limited fashion. Years of careful research have shown me how hard it is to make really good decisions. Training and education certainly help, but neither will save us from biased thinking and poor judgments. A better route to a good decision is for someone who authentically believes differently to directly challenge our beliefs and ways of thinking: to debate with a genuine dissenter. I learned that over many years of studying the behavior of business groups, juries, and even Supreme Court justices. For many people, perhaps most people, the value of dissent lies almost totally in the outside possibility that the minority opinion might be correct. That is why we listen to the dissenter, at least for a while. Wha …

Charlan Nemeth PhD is a professor of psychology in the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work focuses primarily on dissent and how minority opinions can come to prevail. This article is adapted from In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business, by Charlan Nemeth, published by Basic Books. Copyright © 2018 by Charlan Nemeth.

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