How to Make Absolute Decisions Using Rules

Too many of us spend our time trying to make good decisions. Sure, that's important. But you can do even better by making some of those decisions into rules.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #371

Don't you just love people who blindly follow the rules? "Could you please remove the erroneous charge on my credit card bill?" "I'm sorry, sir. The rules say you have to go to our web site and correctly answer sixteen questions about the ability of scorpions to tap dance before we can do that." You want to throttle them, because it's pretty clear, they've turned their minds off and have become nothing more than an unthinking conduit for some stupid rule book somewhere. And you're right! They have. When someone is in that mode, he or she really doesn't even qualify as a thinking human being anymore. And that's great.—today's episode is about how you can learn to become an unthinking automaton as well. All in the service of good, of course.

What these robotic customer service people know (or knew, back when they were human) that we don't is that decisions that require judgment are hard! Oh my gosh, they're hard. Let's say intern MG asks you if you'll help with a report.

MG: Could you give me some help with my report?

There's a lot to consider: how much time you have in your schedule, how much time it will take to help him, how helpful he's been to you, how well he's treated you in the past, and whether he's a 20-year-old over-achiever who will undoubtedly be awarded your job after you're laid off to die in a gutter. Just listing those criteria took me a couple of minutes. Imagine how hard it will be to make the decision itself!

Absolute Decisions Save Time

It's far faster to use absolute decisions, otherwise called "rules." When you make an absolute decision, you have a simple rule that you apply each time a situation arises. "If someone asks for my help, I'll give them up to four hours a week of my time, as long as I'm not already giving those hours to someone else." Now when MG asks, you can instantly look at your calendar, see that your altruism time is completely booked, and politely say, "I'm sorry M.G. I really want to help, but there's simply no room in my schedule."

The key is that you don't have to think. You just mindlessly apply the rule, saving your precious brain power for important things like remembering the relationships between all the characters on Game of Thrones.

People Defer to Rules

But wait! There's even more benefit to rules. When someone challenges a rule, it's your turn to be the customer service rep. You see, because it's a rule and not your personal judgment, people are much more likely to roll over and let you be the dominant one. Our corporate overlords have done an excellent job training us to be responsive to rules.

M.G.: "Please? I just need you to read it over and let me know if the tone and pacing is right."

You: "I'm sorry, M.G. It's the rule. The rule limits how much of my time I can devote to helping people who are going to take over my job and be the next company superstar performer."

M.G.: "Oh! It's a rule? You should have said so. In that case, I understand. We have to follow the rules, after all."


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.