My college-era friends enjoy reminding me of the time decades ago when I sent the waiter at a fancy restaurant away several times as I struggled to select an entrée from the menu. It was an important decision for me: the dinner out was a rare splurge to celebrate graduation with close friends who were about to disperse to jobs around the country. Certainly, the extensive menu contributed to choice overload. But I also think my perfectionist tendency to try to optimize all my decisions, no matter how trivial, contributed to my embarrassing delay.
I’m sure that perfectionism can be a useful trait in high-value decision-making contexts where there is plenty of information and lots of time to analyze and reflect. The choice between surf or turf at dinner with one’s buddies is (I know now) certainly not one of those contexts. This brings me to my question: “How does one’s personality affect decision-making, for better or for worse?”
The natural place to start answering that question is personality inventories like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and The Attentional & Interpersonal Style Inventory (TAIS). The MBTI is based on CG Jung’s century-old theory that people’s behavior can be explained based on their preferences in perception and judgment. The MBTI assigns people 16 personality types based on their “favorite world” (introversion vs. extroversion); preferred information (sensing or intuition); decision-making frame of reference (thinking or feeling) and preference for dealing with the outside world (judging vs. perceiving).
The TAIS is a more recently developed tool focused on the “…specific concentration, and interpersonal skills necessary for effective decision-making, and for the coordination of mental and physical processes in high-pressure situations.” The inventory measures twenty different skills, as well as personal and inter-personal attributes. It’s designed to help identify environments and contexts that are conducive or hurdles to effective decision-making and high performance.
I have taken both tests and they agree that I’m very much a mixed bag, especially as far as decision-making is concerned. My MBTI personality type is INTJ; the ‘T’ means that, for decision-making, I prefer rigor, logic, analysis, objectivity, fairness and truth. On the other hand, I risk overlooking or underweighting “soft” factors like people’s feelings and perceptions, and can seem cold or indifferent, especially under stress. In fact, one anonymous co-worker wrote in their 360 evaluation of me that I could be “intimidating”, a response at odds with how I want to see myself and counterproductive to what I want to achieve with my team.
My TAIS results concur: I scored very high in “Decision Making Style,” which suggests that I prefer accuracy over speed in decision-making. “I just need a few more minutes with the menu, please!” Slow decision-making can be good or bad, depending on the situation. Clearly, it is sometimes true that a decision made fast but imperfectly can be better than one made too slowly. However, in other cases, slow decision-making can frustrate the decider and those depending on them. People scoring as high as I did can benefit from getting advice from others as well as from techniques that improve concentration and relaxation, such as meditation.
My research into decision making and heuristics is also helping. Now, where appropriate, I employ faster, “good enough” satisficing strategies that explicitly incorporate other people’s feelings. At a nice restaurant last night, I ordered from the pre-theater menu, not a la carte, to reduce choice overload, and selected the first items that caught my eye, making sure that my spouse wouldn’t be annoyed by a choice that she wouldn’t want to share. Progress!