Posted in practice on September 29, 2017 10:23 am EDT

6 Ways to Combat Client Decision Fatigue

Have you ever been in a meeting where the client simply stopped making decisions? Here, strategies to keep the ball rolling.

Helping clients realize that there is no such thing as perfect—only tradeoffs between good options—can take some of the pressure off.











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TAGS: business, client relations, collaboration, decision-making, design,


By Cathy Hutchison

Most of us have been there. A client starts out decisive then devolves into second-guessing, revisiting things already decided, or simply delays making decisions at all. That client may be suffering from "decision fatigue."

The idea of decision fatigue is that the quality of decisions decreases after a long session of making them. Psychologists cite decision fatigue as an issue, when people start to frame things in terms of irrational trade-offs. For example, we can’t have a wedding in this room without a center aisle.

Most of us have experienced decision fatigue in our own lives. Ever start the day committed to eating healthy then make the choice to eat the cookie (or seven cookies) late at night?

Here are six ways you can help protect your clients from decision fatigue:

1. Schedule meetings in the morning.

Meetings scheduled later in the day mean that your client has already made multiple decisions in the demands of their work. Beginning early places you with your client when they have a fresh decision-making bank. This strategy is especially important for meetings where significant difficult decisions need to be made.

Meetings scheduled later in the day mean that your client has already made multiple decisions in the demands of their work....

2. Limit options by batching which decisions are made when.

New-concept fast food restaurants are particularly good at this. They make it easy for people to decide by presenting a menu with focused, limited options. You can do this for your clients by batching types of decisions together at different meetings.

Some of this happens naturally. For example, decisions on the form and shape of the room usually aren’t made in the same meeting as interior finish selections. But clients rarely think in terms of batching, so it helps if you put a fence around the discussions, setting clear expectations with your agenda to help the client understand the focus.

3. Document and replay.

Oftentimes in meetings, clients don’t realize that they are making decisions—unless you specifically call them out and document them.

It is easy for brainstorming to become circular, with designers responding to the ideas they hear. Pausing in a meeting to write down things as decisions are made helps the client understand the type of direction they are actually giving. It creates clarity.

4. Meet in a room with a whiteboard.

Prototypes help people make decisions. There is something about “seeing” information that makes it easier to process than simply hearing it. It’s the reason photorealistic renderings and virtual walkthroughs are so powerful. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Having the tools available to quickly sketch things to show the difference in what is being decided can be a big win in helping clients make decisions. Our vision accounts for two thirds of the electrical activity in the brain—which means that at every given moment in a meeting, most of what your client is processing is what they see. Use visuals in decision-making. Sketch ideas to help with comparison. Write down what is being decided. Hand your client the marker and let them clarify what they mean.

Taking the conversation "visual" can be powerful in getting decisions made.

5. People want more than a building.

There is a great quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Your client isn’t coming to you for a building—not really. They are trying to accomplish something with that tool. The more you can tie the discussion to what it is they really want to achieve, the easier it is for them to make the decisions needed to reach their goal. Becoming good at articulating the client's vision, and repeating it to them, ties every decision to the mission, and the clarity can help minimize fatigue.

6. Done is better than perfect.

Church clients often don’t have a framework for the real price of delays in decision making. Cost escalation and change orders feel abstract and intangible—even when we explain the concept.

Helping clients realize that there is no such thing as perfect—only tradeoffs between good options—can take some of the pressure off. After all, our church clients are making decisions with donated funds, which gives gravity to it. Help your clients get to "done" by taking away the illusion of perfection.

By employing even just one of these strategies, you can help minimize decision fatigue for your client. Eliminating circular decision-making not only helps with loss of billable hours in endless meetings, it also makes the process of designing much more fun.

So, test drive the strategies you aren’t already using. Your client will think you are a genius without knowing that decision fatigue was ever in play.



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