Did you get caught in a decision-making trap?

My last post, Tough calls and conquering indecision, provoked a few emails from readers describing times they felt they had made a poor decision. Those poor decisions aligned with several themes – traps that we can all fall into when deciding on a course of action.

There are different opinions on how many decision-making traps there are but in my opinion, there are definitely too many to usefully cover in one blog post! Today, I’d like to introduce you to three: see if you recognise them.


What’s the purpose of an anchor? To hold a ship in one place. The ship can swing a little on the chain but not very far.

We can sometimes be like the ship: we hold on to the information we’re given. Say you’re looking at a floor plan for a new office and you’re asked whether you think you can fit 75 desks in there. You’ve got that idea of 75 desks in your mind now – you’re anchored to it – so you ponder a while. Perhaps you’ll say ‘I think we could squeeze in 80’ or maybe you’ll say ‘I don’t think so: more like 70’ but you’re unlikely to stray far from that first suggestion.

However, if you were asked ‘how many desks do you think we can fit in on the third floor?’, there is no anchor. You’re free to consider the floor plan and come up with your own answer.

How to avoid the anchoring trap

  • Think through your own opinion before asking others for theirs.
  • If you do ask others to help make your decision, ask an open question and avoid anchors.
  • In negotiations, be aware of it: as it’s very difficult to displace an anchor once it’s been laid down, try to set down your anchor before the other party.


Just as the choice of frame has an impact on the way in which we look at a picture, framing influences how we interpret information.

Picture this. You go out for dinner with a friend and you are both handed a huge menu. There must be about forty different main courses on offer! Your friend takes a brief look, closes the menu, puts it down and asks ‘So what are you having? Pizza or pie?’

Flustered, you stop reading that list of delicious salads and answer ‘Er, I think I’ll go for the pie.’.

What just happened there? Your friend framed the question in terms of two options and somehow your mind interpreted that as meaning there only were those two options, despite evidence to the contrary.

How to avoid the framing trap

  • Step back and consider all the possible options, not just those presented to you.
  • Try re-framing the issue: eg a reduction of 10% in headcount is the same as preserving 90% of headcount. Does that change how you feel about a decision?

Status Quo

No, not these guys. It seems that we are inherently resistant to change. When we come to making decisions, it can seem safer to stick with the status quo, with what we already know. Let’s not rock the boat. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Let’s just wait and see how it all pans out.

Sometimes, sticking with the status quo is absolutely the right decision: however, we sometimes decide not to make changes because of the potential discomfort. In the UK, we’re often advised to consider switching energy providers in order to save money and yet 44% of households say they are unlikely to do so within the next 12 months. Of those consumers, half of them think it’s too much hassle or it won’t really save them any money. They’re sticking with the status quo.

How to avoid the status quo trap

  • Ask yourself whether you would still choose the status quo, if it weren’t already your current choice
  • Investigate all the options, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • What’s your objective in making this decision? Does the status quo still support that?

As I say, these are just three of the various decision-making traps: I will cover some of the others another time.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: when making decisions at work or at home, have you ever fallen into the traps of framing, status quo and anchoring?

What do you think?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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One Response to Did you get caught in a decision-making trap?

  1. Pingback: Decision-making traps seem to be all around us | Turning over pebbles

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