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The Action-Consequence Consideration Matrix

 

Explanations > Decisions > The Action-Consequence Consideration Matrix

Action | Consequences | The four considerations | So what

 

When we make decisions about whether or not we will do something, we often take four considerations into account, even if we do not realize we are doing this. This is particularly common when other people are trying to persuade us to do something.

The four considerations

When we make a decision, we may think about the decision in four different ways, considering action and inaction and what may and may not happen as a result. This can be summarized in the following matrix:

 

The Action-Consequence
 Consideration matrix

Action
If I do If I don't

Consequence

What will happen
What won't happen
 

What will
happen if I do?

 

What will
happen if I don't?
 

What won't
happen if I do?

 

What won't
happen if I don't?

 

Action

When we decide, we can choose to act, to accept the recommendations of others or otherwise to do something. Whether or not to act is central to many decisions, we have to consider how desirable acting really is.

Non-action is a decision that we sometimes do not realize, for example when we avoid decisions. When people ask us to do something, we may feel that we have to say yes, but in fact we can always say no. We then may weight up the cost of agreement against the consequence of refusal.

Consequences

When we take action, there are consequences. Things happen. These may be good or bad for us, and good or bad for other people. While we often focus on ourselves, the effects on others can be significant. Other people we usually consider include our family and closer friends. We may also consider consequences for other people, even those we do not know.

These can be deliberate effects and they may be accidental or later effects. We often pay closer attention to consequences that happen in the short term, where there is clear cause and effect between actions and what happens as a result. Consequences may also happen further out into the future, and perhaps with less clear causal relationship. When consequences are less clear and more distant then we may ignore or downplay them, which is not always a good idea.

 

The consequence
 sub-matrix

Effect
Positive Negative

For

Me
Others
 

How will
I benefit?

 

How might
I be harmed?
 

How will
others benefit?

 

How might
others be harmed?

 

So what?

An important point about this matrix is that it highlights considerations that we often do not realize we are making. Often, all we think about is 'What will happen if I do?', 'What will happen in the short term?' and 'What will I gain from this?' By making this unconscious process conscious, we can make and influence better decisions.

It can also be very useful in understanding and influencing the decisions of other people. When people refuse to do as we request, for example, maybe they have seen that there are no negative consequences for them in saying no. This is a common pattern in business change where people seek to avoid the change because they feel they are invulnerable in some way.

See also

Decisional Balance

 

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