When There is No Good Option, You Need to Prepare for BacklashPeople with any kind of political instincts realize that having to choose among a set of unattractive options is going to open a decision-maker up to disgruntled flak, regardless of which particular option the decision-maker picks as the best of a bad lot.
Helping to confirm this intuition is a recent paper (pdf) co-authored by Justin Kruger (Stern School of Business at New York University), Jeremy Burrus (now at the Educational Testing Service), and Laura Kressel (a graduate student at the Stern School) which reports the results of two experiments in which participants were asked to evaluate decisions and decision-makers in just such no-win situations.
As explained in the paper's abstract:
In Experiment 1, participants read about a judge deciding to which of two seemingly unfit parents to award sole custody in a real-life divorce case. In Experiment 2, participants were led to believe that their partner in the experiment was forced to pick one of two unpleasant tasks for the participant to perform. [Specifically, the task was to wear a sign in public reading either "Long Live Osama" or "Free Saddam."] In both cases, the decision and decision-maker were evaluated negatively regardless of the alternative chosen.An obvious question is how to minimize ill-will resulting from being forced to make an unappetizing choice. The key is effective communication, which means:
- When announcing a downbeat decision, provide the facts that the decision-makers were grappling with.
- Explain how pros and cons were considered and the rationale for the decision ultimately reached.
- Discuss how employees' jobs and the work environoment will be affected. Explain your plans for mitigating the decision's negative impacts.
- Take questions from your audience. Prepare for the Q&A in advance by discussing questions that are likely to come up and how to answer them honestly and constructively.