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Two-Stage Decisions


Explanations > Decisions > Two-Stage Decisions

Negative selection | Positive selection | So what


Think back to the last time you bought a house, a car or some other expensive item. How did you go about making the decision?

The most common approach is something like this:

  • Go to an agent and get lots of house details.
  • Sit in a corner with the big pile of descriptions.
  • Start with a rapid sorting-out. No, no, no, maybe, no, no, no, no, maybe. Weed out the ones which are too expensive, in the wrong area, etc.
  • Go through the remaining small pile much more carefully, looking for the right size kitchen, bathrooms, etc.
  • Go and visit the short-list.

Notice that, at least during the 'sitting in a corner' stage, there were two distinct processes: a negative selection followed by a positive selection.

Negative selection

When you were sitting in the corner with the big pile of house details, if you went through each one in detail, you would probably still be sitting there. When you have a lot of things to choose from, even something as expensive as a house, you will still risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater by rapidly excluding many of the possible choices.

Negative criteria

The criteria for the negative decision will be largely based on what you don't want. I don't want to spend more than a certain amount of money. I don't want to live too far away from work.

In other circumstances I might decide that I don't want to employ people without a degree, that I don't want to eat Italian tonight or that I don't want a small car.

Negative criteria also tend to be based on clear needs as opposed to wants or likes. I need a house to cost less than I can afford. I need a car that will hold all of my family.

Positive selection 

Once you have a shortlist, you can now spend more time looking for the final candidates. You can compare and contrast the various options, dig into the details and make a decision based on what you want, not on what you don't want.

There may be several stages of positive selection. First some likely looking ones are selected. Then you might look again to narrow the list further. Then you might go and look at them, try them out or handle them before a final decision is made.

Positive criteria

Positive criteria focus on things you do want, such as a big kitchen or a double garage. They can also be fairly fickle items, delving into wants and likes, as well as addressing more significant needs.

Because there is more time to deliberate over the final choices, you can have many more criteria, although you may still want to limit their numbers. This may lead you to a two-stage selection process for criteria!

Particularly when you are getting down into the final detail, the positive criteria are also likely to themselves be prioritized.  Thus, when faced with the choice between a large kitchen or a double garage, I will choose the kitchen over the garage.

A way of prioritizing criteria is to weight them. Thus the criteria for a large kitchen may be twice as important as the criteria for a double garage, making the trade-off easy. Or it may only be slightly more important, such that something like a great view added to the double garage will be preferable to a big kitchen with no view.

So what

When persuading people, be aware as to whether they are using positive or negative criteria. Listen to whether they are positive or negative language.

Change the negative criteria

 If they are in the negative stage, find their negative criteria and ensure you do not fall below the wire, otherwise you will be rejected without a second glance. You will not be given a chance to argue your case. 

If you do fall below the negative-decision criteria, the best hope is to get in earlier in the process to influence the criteria they set up. You can either change the level of the criteria (e.g. show them how they can afford more each month) or change the criteria (e.g.  get them thinking about paying back over a longer period).

Trade off the positive criteria

In the positive stage, the game can now be about trade-offs. Again, find out the criteria, but now also find out how important each one is. 

Then work out what can be traded for what. Usually, you can trade a number of smaller options for one larger option. New carpets and a landscaped garden may allow you to sell a house with a single garage. A trip to the local park plus shopping may be traded with a day out at the beach.

See also

Repulsion Hypothesis


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