Simplify Problems With A Decision-Making Grid

Most decisions can be simplified with a decision-making grid. The grid is an easy-to-use problem-solving tool that scores options according to criteria.

Every day we make thousands of decisions. Some are no-brainers, such as deciding to drink a glass of water when we are thirsty. Others simple but difficult: Chocolate Cake vs. No Dessert, for example.

Many problems can be simplified and worked out with the help of a decision-making grid. The grid is an easy-to-use problem-solving tool that scores options according to criteria.

The decision-making grid lists options down the left side and criteria along the top. You fill in the grid with Xs and 0s and tally the results on the right side of the grid. The highest score indicates the best decision according to the criteria you've listed.

A decision-making grid can be as simple as Chocolate Cake vs. No Dessert.

Draw a box. On the left side, list Chocolate Cake, then No Dessert. Draw a line between the two, extending the line across the box.

On top of the box, pencil in criteria. After each one, draw a line from the top of the box to the bottom. Now you have a grid.

The criteria on top could be diet, enjoyment, price, spouse. You're trying to keep your weight down, so under diet you would put a 0 on the Chocolate Cake line and an X on the No Dessert line. You would love a slice of cake, so it gets an X under enjoyment. It's pretty expensive at the restaurant where you eat, so that's a 0 for cake and an X for No Dessert under price.

Finally, your spouse will think better of you for skipping dessert, so chocolate Cake gets a 0 under spouse. Tally the Xs, and No Dessert is the winner.

Other decisions are more complicated. Sometimes you and a partner or child disagree on an important problem. The more you discuss it, the more frustrated you both become. Try laying out the problem on a decision-making grid.

For example, Janie (age 11) wants a pet to replace her hamster that has just died. Her sister has a healthy hamster.

Janie wants a ferret, or maybe a prairie dog. You want her to get another hamster, or a rat, or mouse. Despite your best effort, Janie keeps saying, "It's not fair!"

Sit down together. Come up with a long list of pets, including every pet Janie can think of and all your ideas, and write it down the left side of a sheet of paper: dog, cat, goldfish, parakeet, parrot, rat, mouse, gerbil, hamster, prairie dog, ferret, chinchilla, bush baby, tarantula, scorpion.

Now list criteria across the top. Good criteria come from both of you. You might come up with list like this: cute, fun to play with, cost to buy, cost to keep, care, safety.

Forget anything? Remember that Janie's sister has a hamster. If Janie gets a cool parrot to replace her own hamster, sis will have a fit. Add sister to the list.

Is there another parent in the house? Better add that person to the criteria as well, a "What would Mom say?" consideration.

Talk your way through the grid. Janie knows you can get free dogs and cats, but she also knows that they need lots of visits to the veterinarian, so they get Xs under cost to buy and 0s under cost to keep.

Fish are cute, Janie says (X), but no fun to play with (0).

You already have a cage suitable to small rodents, but you would have to buy enclosures for tarantulas, scorpions, fish, ferrets, and so on. How easy is it to care for a bird? Janie thinks scorpions are cute - fine, but you both know they are dangerous, so put a 0 under safety.

Ferrets and prairie dogs cost a lot to buy. Black bear hamsters are a lot less, and rats are cheap. Who's paying?

Talk your way through the grid. Add up the Xs and see what you've got.

Some people mark the grid with +1 and -1. After they tally, they consider only the positive results. A negative score means a bad decision and a score of zero makes no difference. You can go with the highest positive score, or take the options that earned positive scores and set them up in a new grid with different criteria. It's a way of refining the decision.

One of the best results of collaborative decision-making grids is consensus. Arguments are put to rest, cries of "No fair!" disappear and, ideally, everyone gets a result they can live with.