“Indecision may or may not be my problem.” — Jimmy Buffett
In a moment of decision, the Maybe Person procrastinates in the hope that a better choice will present itself.
Sadly, with most decisions, there comes a point when is it too little, too late.
And the decision makes itself.
In Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner write about how to deal with Maybe people.
Your Goal in Dealing with a Maybe Person
You goal in dealing with a difficult person that is behaving like a Maybe Person is to help them learn to think decisively.
Brinkman and Kirschner write:
“Your Maybe Person’s problem is a simple one: He or she doesn’t know a systematic method for choosing between imperfect choices.
Your goal, therefore, is to give the person a strategy for decision making and the motivation to use it.
Perhaps, you’ve heard that ‘You can feed someone a fish and they’ve had a meal. Or you can teach someone to fish, and when there is a need for a fish, they can go get one.’
Nevertheless, ‘You can lead a person to water, but you can’t make him fish.’
So, you are going to create a communication environment within which your Maybe Person wants to stop procrastinating and learn how to make a reasonably good decision.”
Action Plan for Dealing with a Maybe Person
Brinkman and Kirschner provide prescriptive guidance for dealing with people that behave like a Maybe person:
- Establish a comfort zone. Nebulous fears and negative feelings interfere with clear thinking. For example, if you ever told a salesperson you were going to “think about it”, even though you knew you weren’t going “to buy it.” The get along part of you didn’t want to deal with the discomfort of telling the truth.
- Surface conflicts, clarify options. Patiently explore, from the Maybe Person’s point of view, all of the options and the obstacles involved in making the decision, and any people that might be adversely affected by the decision. Listen for words of hesitation like “probably,” “I think so,” “pretty much,” “that could be true,” and so on as signals to explore deeper.
- Use a decision-making system. The best way to make a decision is to use a system. if you have a system that works well for you, teach it to the Maybe Person. One approach is to list out all the positive and all the negatives explicitly
Reassure, then ensure follow-through. Once the decision is made, reassure the Maybe
- Tell the person that there are no perfect decisions, and that the decision is a good one. Then, to ensure that the Maybe Person follows through, stay in touch until the decision is implemented. For example, “I’ll drop by later this afternoon and follow up on this.” See How Experts Make Decisions and Satisficing to Get Things Done.
- Strengthen the relationship. Promote the idea of a better future for both of you as a result of the person’s honesty with you. Be willing to take a few moments from time to time and listen to the Maybe Person’s concerns. Talk on a personal level with the person, and help him or her learn the decision-making process whenever the opportunity arises. If you are willing to patiently invest a little time in this kind of guidance, the Maybe Person will never want to let you down. See Five Ways to Strengthen a Relationship.
Examples of Responding to a Maybe Person
Brinkman and Kirschner provide examples of interacting with a Maybe person:
- Establish a comfort zone. “Listen, John. I know you, you know me, one thing I can tell you is we can work it out.”
- Surface conflict. Just give me some truth: What is it, me old chum, bout perforon’ on Ed’s show?”
- Use a decision-making system. “You can talk to me. What are you choices?” (Clarify options)
Here are my key takeaways:
- Let them know the impact of their indecision. Timing windows are key. If you’re missing timing windows, help the Maybe Person undertand the impact of their actions (or inaction.)
- Focus on “good enough” over perfection. It’s how experts make decisions under fire. They do pattern matching against possible fits. They satisfice to get things done.
- Make the criteria and values explicit. Part of the problem may be the Maybe Person is optimizing around different criteria than you are. You can’t reliably make decisions if you don’t know that criteria that matters.
Do you think you now know how to deal with a Maybe Person?
Maybe you do.
Maybe you don’t.
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