Unilateral decision-making learned from authoritarian mother and lack of self-determination 

In my professional life, there’s a lot of talk about leadership.  One common theme is the idea of the leader’s responsibility to build consensus around a decision before implementing it.  Intellectually, this makes perfect sense.  But, I recognize that throughout my career, in fact throughout my life, I’ve often had trouble finding the patience to build consensus, genuinely accept other people’s ideas without feeling threatened, and even adjusting course in the process of learning from others.  One should not be afraid even to learn from subordinates, children, disinterested third parties, or others whom we might normally be tempted to disregard.  Of course, decision-making is different in urgent, fast-moving situations.  But, many of life’s important decisions are not urgent and fast moving.

I can think of several specific examples in my career when I could have done better by consulting with others more and welcoming edits as an opportunity for discussion and learning instead of just as criticism or obstructionism.  Recently, this lesson was reinforced for me when I really started to understand how it applies to family and other non-work settings as well.  You’ve read my post called “Listening.”  That’s one small example of how I realized I had a life-long habit of mindlessly making decisions unilaterally.  I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

There are so many times in our marriage, for example, when I thought I was seeking TL’s opinion and valuing it, but I actually was not.  I started certain discussions with a pre-conceived idea of the parameters of what we should want.  I was too inflexible and too bad at listening to open up the discussion to questioning those parameters and how we arrived at them.

For example, I remember talking to TL about leaving a particular job in order to take another that I was convinced would be more lucrative.  Looking back on it, it may have been the wrong decision.  At the time, TL was supportive but apprehensive.  At the same time, I was so convinced that the new job would be lucrative that I did not even consider the possibility I was wrong about that.  So, TL and I talked about how to take the new job.  Thanks to my inappropriate haste and overconfidence, I skipped the important step of thoroughly discussing with TL whether my assumptions about the new job were even correct, and whether taking the new job may require other sacrifices that really were not worth it.

The other night I was trying to figure out why I struggled so much with consultative decision-making and accepting advice from others.  As you may have guessed by now, it occurred to me that it probably came from my mother, in two ways.  First, I didn’t have any decision-making power or experience as a child and adolescent.  I couldn’t decide what to wear, what to eat, what to do, and so many other things.  When I finally did get the freedom to make my own decisions, I hoarded it.  Second, I learned how to make decisions by watching my parents.  I was never included in a decision.  In fact, my parents never included anyone else in their decisions.

There are practical lessons from this.  I don’t want to totally deprive my children of the experience of making decisions.  Also, I need to continue practicing collaborative decision-making.  It is not second nature for me.  But, I need to make it second nature.

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4 thoughts on “Unilateral decision-making learned from authoritarian mother and lack of self-determination 

  1. I just want to say something about that “lucrative job.” It was, in fact, not! But, had we stayed at the previous job, the health risks MC was taking likely would have caught up with him, with me and possibly our child. In addition, who knows if the conception of our youngest child would have occurred. Those are chances I would never want to take!

    One other thought, In the past, it was his way or my way. If he didn’t get his way, he just gave in to my way. He took my contribution of some new or different thoughts as a complete veto to his ideas, they were not. I do see MC’s willingness and desire to learn more collaborative decision making, listening and considering the ideas of others (not as a critique, but as a valued contribution), as part of his “work” to being a healthier person and a safer partner. And, perhaps, it is why now when I encounter “my way or not at all” type attitudes, I find it a bit disconcerting, to say the least.

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  2. I’m just now learning how my husband’s FOO issues have affected his personality and decision making as an adult – and we’ve been together for a quarter of a century, so I’m playing catch up!

    I read MC’s posts with hope that H will at some point realize that he does have control over his future, that he doesn’t have to live in fear of what MIGHT happen if he’s open and honest with me, and that it’s not too late to overcome the Crazy that he endured during his childhood. So far, he’s doubtful that he can or should even try to make any changes. We have a steep hill to climb.

    (Planning to post about what I’m learning about conflict avoidance soon.)

    Thank you for sharing your story – it truly helps!
    ☀️

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    1. Conflict avoidance is a theme TL and I discuss a lot, especially in relation to my mother. I have also been working to confront difficult emotions directly with TL rather than trying to avoid them.

      On d-day, it was either change my bad habits or give-up. So, the desire to make changes happened right away. It has, however, taken me some time since d-day to learn exactly what my bad habits were and what to do about them. It takes a long time to unlearn forty-six years of bad habits.

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      1. H and I just had a nice, calm conversation about this, and (yay!) he said maybe I’m right, and reflected on some business situations where he would do anything and everything to avoid what he perceived as conflict. It’s progress. I know he wants us to succeed, and he’s trying to understand what needs to be done.

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