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Decisional Balance


Explanations > Decisions > Decisional Balance

Self and others | Gains and losses | Approval | Four domains | So what


When we make decisions we weigh up the pros and cons for the things that we may gain from each possible decision and also the further impact that the decision might have.

Self and others

The first person we usually consider when making decisions is ourselves. We ask 'What will I gain from this?' However we also live in society and have to consider others and so there is often a social element to the decision.

We do not consider all people equally when making decisions. First, we consider our family and closer friends. We may also think about others who have power which they can use to reward or punish us depending on the outcome of the decisions. In business, such people include managers and customers.

Gains and losses

We look at decisions and their benefits in terms of pros and cons, gains and losses. In this, we tend to pay particular attention to losses and typically weight these around three times more than gains.

Gains and losses can have time elements that effect our decisions. Many people have a preference for the shorter term and will prioritize a smaller short-term gain over a larger longer-term gain. Likewise, losses in the longer term may be accepted while shorter-term losses loom large and have a disproportionate effect.


When we think about decisions we also consider values and whether the decision will be considered as right or wrong, good or bad. We hence want approval from others (and certainly not rejection or criticism). Approval may also be needed for more mundane matters, such as that spending is within budgets and outcomes are in alignment with business goals.

As well as thinking about others' approval we also want to feel good ourselves and so consider whether the decision is in alignment or not with our personal values.

Four domains

Janis and Mann (1977) suggest four domains which we consider when making decisions:

  • Utilitarian gains and loses for self
  • Utilitarian gains and loses for significant others
  • Self-approval or disapproval
  • Social approval or disapproval

These can be framed in the form of a grid where we balance the effect based just on ourselves and also when we bring others into the equation.


Decisional Balance

Gains and losses Approval



Personal impact


Self esteem

Impact on others


Social esteem


Personal impact

Personal impact is the direct effect on ourselves from the decision. This often carries most weight as we consider what we may gain or lose.

Impact on others

We make decisions directed at others, so seek to consider how they may gain or lose. In particular we think about those close to us and those who can take revenge if they are harmed or help us if they gain from the decision.

Social esteem

When we decide, we want others to approve so we can feel good and know that they will not criticize us or block the decision in some way.


We also want to feel good about the decision and so think about what it means for us personally and whether we will feel proud, guilty or otherwise good or bad about it all.

So what?

When you make decisions or ask others to decide, consider how these four areas will influence the decision and shape your persuasions to provide answers that will lead to the decision you seek.

See also

Prospect Theory, Formulating Intent, Selecting the best course of action


Janis, I.L. and Mann, L. (1977). Decision Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice, and Commitment. New York: The Free Press


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