What’s the harm with sitting on the fence?

I remember lunching in a restaurant with a colleague.  The waiter arrived to take our order, but my colleague wasn’t ready.  She couldn’t make up her mind.  “This looks good,” she said.  “But so does that.  Oh dear, I don’t know which one to choose.”

She finally made a choice.  “I’ll have the chicken,” she told me.  When the waiter came back and took her order, she said, “I’ll have the lamb.”

As we ate, she looked at my meal wistfully.  “I wish I’d ordered what you’ve got,” she said.

The way you do one thing is the way you do everything

This may seem like an innocuous scenario.  But it’s not.

My colleague’s indecision at lunch was mirrored in the way she worked at the office.  She would put off making a decision for as long as she could – effectively sitting on the fence – and then when she made a decision she spent her time fretting that it was the wrong one.

The longer she sat on the fence, the more she worried that she’d made the wrong choice, and the more people she infuriated as they awaited her decision so that they could do their work.

Habitual fence-sitting erodes your self-esteem

When you’re indecisive, you are sending yourself the message that your judgement cannot be trusted, not even to decide between chicken and lamb.

Because we are required to make many decisions every day (what to wear, which seat to take on the bus, what to cover at the meeting), indecisiveness means you live with a cluttered mind, full of loose ends.  This means you continuously feel scattered and overwhelmed, which creates a catch 22 cycle, since it’s harder to make a decision when you feel scattered and overwhelmed.

Indecision becomes what you’re known for

If you were watching my colleague struggle with the chicken or lamb decision, what opinion of her would you have?  Would you be entrusting her with any information that would require an opinion or a decision in a timely manner?

Would your opinion of her change if she looked at the menu, made a choice, and then put the menu down and started a meaningful conversation with you?

No one is going to entrust you with decisions if it’s clear that you struggle with them.  Firstly, they want certainty, not waiting times.  Secondly, most people don’t like making others uncomfortable, so they’ll find ways of shielding you from making decisions.

Decisiveness doesn’t mean rash decisions

Again and again, decisiveness has been shown to be a quality of great leaders.  That doesn’t mean they jump into the water without knowing its depth.  It does mean that if a decision can reasonably be made today, they make the decision and move on to the next thing.

Your to-decide list

We’re often taught in time management classes to make a “to do” list.  Your assignment today is to make a “to decide” list.  Write down all the unmade decisions that are currently on your mind, from the mundane (should I change to that new washing powder brand) to the intense (is it time to make a career move?)

Keep writing your list until you feel you’ve captured the decisions that are keeping you scattered.

Now pick three decisions – simple ones to start with.

And jump off the fence.

Debbie Thompson is a leadership coach who combines her years in leadership positions with her love of coaching high achievers to outstanding results.  She works to help managers, leaders and business owners master that “leadership thing” so that they get more clarity, have more impact, and multiply their influence.