Are You Double Counting Issues?

If one of your priorities in a negotiation also impacts a second priority, chances are that you are currently overvaluing the first priority without knowing it.

Let’s look at how this might arise through an example — imagine you are a politician, weighing up whether or not you should accept a renegotiated bill on healthcare. You have a long list of issues to concern yourself with, but among those are: Cost to Taxpayers, Effective Coverage for the Poor, and Voter Popularity.

When evaluating how the deal scores along each of those criteria, it can be extremely easy to fall into the subtle trap of letting the Cost to Taxpayers and Effective Coverage for the Poor scores heavily influence the score you give to Voter Popularity. After all, voters won’t love footing an expensive bill, and they surely won’t want a bill that only helps the rich… right?

This train of logic is perfectly valid, but the way you are using it in your decision making is not! By effectively “creating” a third issue (Voter Popularity) out of two others (Cost and Coverage for the Poor), you are effectively letting the first two issues score not once, but twice, in your decision making tool or spreadsheet. This is likely to lead you towards a suboptimal decision.

Want an even easier way to illustrate and understand the concept? Imagine you are buying a burger, and cost matters just as much to you as quality. A well-formed decision matrix might look something like this (with purely hypothetical examples):

Issue Issue Weighting McDonald’s Score KFC Score
Cost 5 8 5
Quality 5 5 7


When you weight these scores (multiply the importance of the issue by the score that each option received on that issue, and sum the totals), you end up with:

  • McDonald’s: (5*8) for cost, plus (5*5) for quality, for a total of 65
  • KFC: (5*5) for cost, plus (5*7) for quality, for a total of 60

According to this decision-making tool, McDonald’s is likely the better option for you.

But what would happen if you split the “Quality” factor up into many different, comprising factors and tried to represent them all in the table? You might end up with something like:

Issue Issue Weighting McDonald’s Score KFC Score
Cost 5 6 5
Texture 5 3 7
Main Taste 5 3 7
After-Taste 5 3 7
Aroma 5 3 7
Presentation 5 3 7
Visual Appeal 5 3 7


Now when you repeat the weighting process, the totals aren’t even close:

  • McDonald’s: 120
  • KFC: 235

So KFC has gone from being a narrow loser in our first decision-making matrix, to scoring almost double that of McDonald’s in our second decision-making matrix! In fact, if you use the latter decision-making matrix, you would end up virtually always choosing the higher quality burger… despite the fact that you really value cost just as highly as the overall quality.

We can avoid these issues by firstly being cognizant of what we really value, and trying to state it precisely, concisely, and with minimal overlap. With that said, we don’t live in an ideal world, and these kinds of overlap often reveal themselves only once we have started our analysis in earnest. Some other options available to us at this stage include:

  • Re-forming our decision making tools to create a better separation of issues
  • Eliminating or combining  issues completely (you may need to alter the importance of any ‘combined’ issues accordingly – e.g. if you have realised that Cost to Voters will also impact Voter Popularity, you may choose to increase its importance, allowing you to leave Voter Popularity off the decision-making tool while still having it implicitly valued!)
  • Considering overlapping issues using a different kind of analysis (e.g. leaving Voter Popularity off the decision-making tool with no compensating changes, but then using it as a tie-break between two otherwise very numerically close solutions available to you)

Whatever solution you choose, the sheer fact that you have become cognizant of this overlap in issues is already a step forward. If you are investing your time in building or using these kinds of decision-making tools for yourself, even extremely simplistic ones, then it is also worth your time to double check whether they can be broken or exploited in this way.

Remember — the value of a recommended decision produced by a decision-making tool is only as strong as the decision-making tool itself!

2019-02-20T18:30:07+00:00 By |Tags: , |
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