The Dangers of Being Frozen By Fear

I recently sat down with a colleague at work, and after a few minutes of chatting, we got on to the topic of how to be effective. More specifically, we touched on the topic of what made people ineffective. One trait that we both noticed throughout the years has been the inability to make a decision. Regardless of the role (subordinate, peer, or superior), we can see folks like this in the workplace, or in everyday life for that matter. It tends to be a real issue when it comes to succeeding.


From a business sense, making a decision has an impact that can usually be translated into a dollar value at some point. Maybe the result of the decision can have an impact on productivity, employee morale, or possibly just a straight-out dollar amount. This impact could be positive or negative.

For example, maybe implementing a $100,000 piece of software can save my project managers $30,000 a year. But if I don’t make a decision, nothing happens. Although I’m not loosing that $30,000 a year by not spending that money, I’m also not gaining those benefits. The longer I wait to make a decision, the longer I won’t be saving that money. The decision comes to stand still and the situation doesn’t get any better.

From a support standpoint, this can be infuriating. Say I am a user calling up for support because my $300 monitor isn’t working. If I find out that you have been spending three days deciding whether or not you should buy the same monitor for $300 or buy a similar one for $290, I won’t be happy. Three days of me going without a monitor are not worth the potential $10 in savings. If you can’t make a decision like that in 5 minutes, what is the value of spending days trying to make it?


So why do folks hesitate on decisions? The most common reason I have seen is due to a fear of making the wrong decision, which is often equated with failure. The rationale can sometimes be “If I don’t make a decision, then it won’t be wrong”. Although true, this unfortunately rarely works as problems don’t tend to solve themselves. I know I used to be guilty of this, and it was something I had to work on to get over.

So why the fear of failure? It seems to be a part of our culture that failure is bad or looked down upon. Things get a lot easier when you realize that there are benefits to failing. One of the main benefits is you find out what doesn’t work. If you have a choice between A and B, and you choose B and fail, well you’ll hopefully have knowledge that you didn’t have before. Why did it fail? Knowing what you know now, would A work? If so, can you choose A now? Does it need to be modified? See – lots of questions that you can hopefully answer with the new knowledge.


Putting my IT Manager hat on, I would rather have staff that makes a choice, even if it turns out wrong, versus ones that sit and wait for someone else to make the choice for them. If you go with the wrong choice, show me why you went that way. Generally speaking, I find most folks put thought into it. If there is a gap in their thinking, then it is a learning opportunity. Why did this person not have this knowledge when making their decision? Poor documentation? Maybe the scope changed and there was no communication? Lack of training?

Let’s go back to the IT support angle with the monitor example. Say you go for the cheaper monitor. The user might call up after three days and say “Hey, this monitor doesn’t have the right inputs on it, I need the same as before”. OK, so the wrong choice, but what do we gain? We now know going forward that we need specific inputs. If that decision to save a few dollars comes up again, you won’t need to think twice because you know it won’t work.

Although these examples are simple, you can apply the logic to projects or tasks of all sizes. If you fail at something, analyze why you fail. Don’t look to place blame, but rather use it as an experience to grow.

A big thanks to all the folks who reached out via social media to pipe in on this. There were some fantastic points that were brought up.

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