About a decade ago, when I served on a local ASTD chapters board, I began to ponder the stalemate that can occur when trying to reach a decision through consensus. During one particularly drawn-out meeting, I found myself listening to human resource colleagues circling in conversation without deciding anything. Sitting there, I reflected on the fact that individuals within a group can hold different mindsets about the decision at hand. During that meeting, I created what I call ChoiceMarks for the best-possible decision makingmindsets for thinking about decisions.

As you read through the mindsets, think about which one is most comfortable for you. Which mindset is most often used by the people you work with and live with? Typically people rely on one or two mindsets the majority of the time.

Extreme excitement. This is the ChoiceMark highest in energy for a say-yes or do-it decision regarding an action to be taken or a project to be pursued. The only decision acceptable for the extreme excitement mindset is yes. Few, if any, questions are posed when a person holds this mindset. Positive energy can be contagious while at the same time annoying. The extreme excitement energy is critical for long-haul projects that need championing through to completion.

Engaged enthusiasm. Those with this mindset are inclined to a yes, do-it response. This mark is noticeably different than the first because of the number of questions asked by the person or people holding this mindset to pin down specifics, details, deadlines, resources, and staffing commitments. If the questions are not answered sufficiently, someone in engaged enthusiasm may move into neutral and neither help with the implementation of a decision nor stand in its way.

Neutral. Willing to listen, often full of questions, the person with this mindset may or may not speak up. So when a group is particularly quiet, start asking questions to find out whether people are in neutral and to uncover what questions they have and want answered before they will commit to a decision.

Boxed-in. Known widely for its limited, done-it-before-and-it-didnt-work thinking, this mindset also has strengths. For instance, failing to draw on past experiences may create less than optimal if not disastrous outcomes. A boxed-in thinker may in fact be aware of obstacles that the engaged and extreme excitement thinkers have not considered. So, ask for the concerns and insight of people who appear to be boxed-in in their thinking.

Anti-survival. Vocal about not taking the action under discussion, this mindset is equal in energy to the extreme excitement mark. People with this mindset are often seen by others as being pessimistic, always against things, or the consummate devils advocate. However, the strength of the anti-survival mindset is that the person may in fact be right: If the action is taken someone or something may get hurt.

Getting all five of the mindsets talking, and then listening intently to the points of view expressed, helps every group make the best possible decisions. Without uncovering the experiences behind the spoken and unspoken points of view, teams can find themselves failing to meet their goals; groups can fall short of accomplishments because of intentional sabotage; and individuals can end up disengaging from the group effort just when you need them most.

Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of ASTD Links.