Post-Decision Arguments and the Shadow Zone

Post-Decision Arguments
Definition: Arguments ideated after a decision has been reached.
Similar to: Rationalizations, Justificatations
Shadow Zone
Definition: The space of all post-decision arguments for a decision.

A: “Would you like to come to a tech talk in a few minutes?”
B: “No, I still have to eat dinner.”
A: “There will be food at the talk.”
B: “Yes, but I need to finish up some work tonight.”
A: “It’s near by and you could just check it out.”
B: “I think it will rain soon and don’t want to get wet.”
A: “I’ve checked the report and actually the clouds are just passing by”.
B: “Maybe so, but it’s been shown statistically that networking events lead to lower happiness levels”

I’m quite familiar with conversations like the one above. While most aren’t as long as this, it should be quite apparent that none of the reasons mentioned is the real decision factor. More argument would lead to more rationalizations, but when discussed in this way it would appear that the primary (and quite possibly the only) reason for not attending the event is hidden from the receiver.

This could be either an explicit lie, or an internal rationalization. Either way can be very frustrating, but I belive the second is far more common and dangerous.

I believe it’s been shown in studies (very sorry for not linking to one, I can’t seem to find it at the moment) that when people make opinions and decisions, they often make intutive judgements immiately and follow them up with long lists of logical reasons to back that up. This means that the reasons given aren’t exactly why the person believes that at all. And thus, if one were to make fantastic arguments against each, the belief wouldn’t necessarilly change.

I’ll refer to these “unimportant” arguments as post-decision arguments, to help point out that they get made after a decision has already been reached, and thus have had no role in the decision making process. Thus, any work countering a post-decision argument is only useful insofar as to get someone to admit a pre-decision argument, which often will never happen.

The scary thing is that these people have no idea that this is happening. We think we make decisions based on explicit reasons, but normally don’t do so at all. Instead we make up these strange arguments to support our instant thought processes. And then spend dozens of hours of debate on points that aren’t even decision-relevant in the first place.

This would be particularly terrible if our intuitive process worked poorly. And sometimes it does, but normally it’s able to get us through the day surprisingly well.

The best thing we can do is to recognize these areas and agnowledge them. For whatever reason, “rationalization” seems to be a very touchy and misunderstood word for this sort of thing. So rather than use “rationalization” as a word for a single argument, I prefer the term “shadow zone” as the space of all arguments made post-decision. So instead of thinking “Is that argument a rationalization or a realistic reason?” we could ask “are we in the shadow zone?”

The shadow zone is named as to imply a space that no one really understands and that everyone finds quite murkey and mysterious. Which is exactly what many of these post-decision arguments are. The fact that they weren’t used to make a decision implies that they haven’t been thought out but instead were chosen to feel satisfactory. Ideally these arguments would come with big warning! signs attached, but until the Google Glass gets that functionality we’ll have to do with clever names.