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Decision Making: A Psychological


Analysis of Conflict, Choice, and
Commitment

Article in The Academy of Management Review · January 1980


DOI: 10.5465/AMR.1980.4288953

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Ramon Aldag
University of Wisconsin–Madison
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gram content and pedagogical techniques, and entire chapter in this area to evaluating various
evaluation of the training effort. In addition, the roll training methods, the author presents a balanced
of the program administrator, pre-meeting prepara- view of lecturing, the conference method, critical
tion of participants and instructors, layout of physi- incidents, experiential exercises, and case studies,
cal facilities, time constraints, and scheduling con- even though he strongly favors the case study
siderations are explored. method.
Throughout the book, numerous tables, charts, Probably the most significant section of the book
and survey instruments are provided to illustrate for management trainers and training directors Is
and to facilitate the requisite data gathering and the section on the evaluation of training. Without
analysis to complete the training process. This ap- sidestepping the inherent measurement and ac-
proach should prove helpful even to experienced countability problems, Watson stresses the neces-
practitioners responsible for some segment of their sity for this phase. Again a variety of lists and instru-
corporate training programs. Undoubtedly these ments is provided to assist in collecting, organizing,
materials would be useful to any individual who is and interpreting evaluation data. In addition, the
just beginning to undertake these types of activities topics covered include who wants the evaluation,
or who has never had to implement a complete what does it involve, and how can the learning be
training program. measured and its organizational effect determined.
In the initial step of assessing managers' training Although the book is geared primarily for training
needs, the materials cited above are used in a practitioners, it is a book that should be read as well
series of activities. These include identifying impor- by all academic personnel in management educa-
tant characteristics of an organization and industry tion, not simply the ones involved in executive de-
and the significance of these attributes to required velopment or management and supervisory train-
managerial abilities. There is also further elabora- ing programs. The first five chapters should be the
tion on using position descriptions, job analyses, ones of especial interest to academicians; they
performance appraisals, interviews, and opinion would also be particularly beneficial to new Ph.D.
surveys in assessing needs and on the application recipients who are just embarking on their teaching
of these techniques. This section ends with concise careers, or in conjunction with a series of seminars
guidelines for formulating the training objectives on teaching effectiveness for students in doctoral
based on the results of the needs assessment. programs.
Defining a plan as a "comprehensive statement
of the events that must occur to cause the attain- REFERENCE
ment of the desired end results," Watson quickly Kolb, David A. On management and the teaming process. In
moves from describing a six-step general planning David A. Kolb, Irwin M. Rubin, and James M. Mclntyre (Eds.),
process to a corresponding approach to the prepar- Organizational psychology (2nd ed.). Englewood, Cliffs, N.J.:
ation of management training and development Prentice-Hall, 1974.
plans and strategies. An excellent feature in this Duane R. Wood
area Is the outline of the problems associated with Central Michigan University
the necessary planning tasks of comparing present
managerial behaviors with the desired ones, listing
the knowledge, skills, and personal characteristics
to be attained, and identifying participants' respon- Irving L. Janis and Leon Mann. Decision
sibilties, educational background, work experi- Makinq: A Psychological Analysis of Con-
ences, and receptiveness to training efforts. flict, Choice, and Commitment New York:
In discussing the integration of the results of Free Press, 1977,488 pp., $15.95.
these activities into the design of the program con-
tent and the selection of faculty members, peda- Janis and Mann attempt to provide a compre-
gogical techniques, and instructional materials, the hensive descriptive theory of how people cope with
author again provides many useful concepts and vital decisions. In so doing, they provide sugges-
practical tips for training personnel. Devoting an tions for needed additional research concerning the

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psychological processes involved in conflict, making and in providing insights into a number of
choice, and commitment and make some sugges- important issues. For example, chapters are de-
tions for the improvement of decision quality. The voted to illustrating how the conflict model can be
book is competently done, drawing heavily on clini- used to predict when selective avoidance of infor-
cal, historical, survey, and other research, and is mation will occur, how individuals will respond to
filled with generally interesting anecdotal evidence. threats to freedom of choice, and when commit-
It clearly presents many key findings from the field ment entrapment may take place. Such applica-
of social psychology, including those of the authors. tions are informative and generate a number of
In fact, nearly 40 of Janis's works are cited, placing suggestions for changes in research strategies,
his familiar analysis of "groupthink" in a broader though repeated comparisons of the relative predic-
perspective. However, despite its virtures, the book tive merits of conflict theory and of such competitors
presents an incomplete and somewhat pessimistic as dissonance and reactance theories often seem
view of decision making and seems over ambitious inconclusive.
in its claims for the generalizability of its arguments. The authors then suggest cognitive and emo-
Janis and Mann see the human as "a reluctant tional confrontation techniques to counteract
decision maker — beset by conflict, doubts, and defensive avoidance tendencies and present five
worry, struggling with incongruous longings, an- general types of interventions (all of them involving
tipathies, and loyalties, and seeking relief by pro- counseling) to improve the quality of decision mak-
crastinating, rationalizing, or denying responsibility ing. They include: (1) decision counseling to foster
for his own choices" [p. 15]. To more adequately vigilant problem solving, (2) a balance-sheet pro-
understand this troubled being, and ultimately to cedure for weighing the pros and cons of each
improve decision making, the authors present a alternative course of action, (3) outcome psycho-
"conflict model" of decision making. The model is drama to enhance vigilance and induce awareness
meant to be applicable to all stressful, affect-laden of preconscious anticipations, (4) emotional inocu-
situations in which "hot" cognitions are at work. lation procedures (such as the realistic job preview)
Central to the model is a specification of coping to increase tolerance for the stresses of postdeci-
patterns. The authors describe one effective coping sional setbacks, and (5) standard operating proce-
pattern, vigilance, with such characteristics as thor- dures to prevent a collusive pattern of defensive
ough information search and unbiased assimilation avoidance among the members of a decision-
of new information, and four "defective" patterns. making group.
The defective patterns include unconflicted adher- Two things are troubling about these prescrip-
ence to the current course of action, unconflicted tions. The first is that the authors do little to justify
change to a new course of action, defensive avoid- confidence in their value, repeatedly noting the
ance (procrastinating, shifting responsibility, or paucity of research supporting their validity. Per-
bolstering the preferred alternative), and hypervigi- haps more disturbing is the fact that, while many
lance (in its extreme form, panic). techniques are now available for unassisted en-
Janis and Mann argue that the decision maker's hancement of decision making quality, there is
choice from among these alternatives is the result almost nothing in this book to suggest that individ-
of consideration of a sequence of questions dealing uals or groups may be able to improve their decision
with perceived risks of the status quo and of making without the aid of a counselor.
change, perceived ability to find a better solution, Their failure to refer to such techniques may re-
and time constraints. They subsequently link their flect the authors' apparent distrust of "supposedly
model of coping strategy choice to one of stages of rational" decision-making procedures and of a
decision making (appraising the challenge, survey- "world dominated by Dr. Strangelove and like-
ing alternatives, weighing of alternatives, deliberat- minded cost accountants" [p. 45]. For instance, at
ing about commitment, and adhering despite several points they discuss cases in which attempts
negative feedback). This results in a combined to apply techniques to aid in rational decision mak-
conflict model useful in highlighting points at which ing have failed. In each case, the failure was not due
interventions might improve the quality of decision to the technique itself but to its incorrect use. There

142
are many situations in which"hot" cognitions are at social-psychological description of decision making
work, such as suicide prevention and conflict reso- in stressful situations and providing concrete sug-
lution, where tools to assist rational decision mak- gestions for future research directions. Further-
ing have proven to be useful. The authors do more, although this book would be of relatively little
mention in passing that statistical decision theory value in courses focusing on normative organiza-
and the use of multi-attribute utility models may be tional decision making and could not be used as the
helpful for evaluating alternatives but make no sole text in those dealing with descriptive decision
reference to techniques for successfully generating making, its careful integration of a considerable
alternatives, preventing incrementalizing and con- volume of literature should make it a useful supple-
servatism, implementing decisions, reducing diffi- ment in courses of the latter kind as well as a
culties in group problem solving, and so on. Also, valuable reference for interested scholars.
the authors give the misleading impression that
Ramon J. Aldag
techniques to improve rational decision making are University of Wisconsin
capable of consideration only of utilitarian factors.
Furthermore, although Janis and Mann argue
that their model is applicable to all consequential Thomas L. Moffat. Selection Interviewing
decisions, including many in organizations, and for Managers. New York: Harper & Row,
although they repeatedly provide hypothetical 1978, 196 pp., $10.95.
examples concerning executives' decisions, their
extrapolation to organizational decision making is It is obvious that the characteristics of any single
less than convincing. Almost all of the cases for interview will vary both with the individuals involved
which solid evidence supporting the model is pre- and with the purpose and character of the interview.
sented — such as anticipation of major surgery, Moffatt's book totally agrees with this viewpoint,
resistance to the draft, evacuation in the face of a and provides a candid look at interviewing that is
flood, fleeing from a fire, and attempting to quit expressed in both written and schematic form. It is
smoking after exposure to strong fear appeals — keyed toward the beginner (one with little or no
are characterized by levels of stress substantially formal training in nondirective interviewing), and
greater than those typically faced by organizational offers little for either the professional interviewer or
decision makers. The authors' attempts to genera- the academician. This, of course, in no way detracts
lize to the organizational setting may have been from the readability of the book or the authors' inti-
more successful had they not so conspicuously mate involvement with the topic.
ignored the relevant organizational literature. Of The first three chapters establish the framework
almost 600 references, none are drawn from either and rationale for examining the interview process.
the Academy of f^anagement Journal or Decision Here, Moffatt examines the question of validity and
Sciences. Fewer than a dozen, with an average other stumbling blocks to effective interviewing.
age of over 10 years, are from Administrative Sci- The discussion centering on interviewer maturity is
ence Quarterly, the Joumal of Applied Psychology, particularly well written and offers several examples
Management Science, and Organizational Beha- of such behavior. In this section the author comes
vior and Human Performance. A wealth of literature very close to the Kahn and Connell definition of an
relevant to the model, such as that on decision interview: "a specialized pattern of verbal interac-
confirmation, the effect of time constraints and of tion initiated for a specific purpose, with consequent
negative information, the determinants of uncer- elimination of extraneous material." The only both-
tainty, group decision-making techniques, factors ersome aspect is the reference to the term "key or
influencing the use of alternative decision-making flags" without an appropriate explanation for the
styles, and decision-process tracing techniques, reader.
could profitably have been taken from such Each of the next five chapters concentrates on
sources. one of the several stages of interviewing: (1) prep-
Such concerns notwithstanding, this is an ambi- aration, (2) establishing a permissive climate, (3)
tious, insightful work, offering a relatively thorough the Cone System (data gathering), (4) applicant

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