Non Sequitur Fridays

On Being a Satisficer

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistia team member's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. This is Kristen Craft's first Non Sequitur!

Two years ago, I learned a theory that could totally change your relationship with your mother. It's called the theory of drinking wine. Okay, just kidding. Well, mostly kidding.

The actual game changer I learned was the theory of "satisficing." The word is a portmanteau—a blend of two words—mixing "satisfy" and "sufficing." It usually refers to a decision-making style, and essentially, it means that an option will suffice if it satisfies the criteria you've identified. For example, if you want to buy a sweater, you might identify criteria such as cashmere, the color black, cardigan style, and hip-length. When you find a sweater that meets these criteria, you buy it, because it will suffice.

I've learned that I am a satisficer through and through. I dislike shopping, so I'm eager to be efficient and get out of stores as quickly as possible. This goes beyond shopping, of course. I'm not one to agonize over meal choices at restaurants. Instead, I'll identify my criteria and pick quickly (often, my only criterion is "the people who work there like this dish," so I'll ask the waiter's 2-3 favorite things and order one of those).

This style stems from my recognition that there are costs associated with a lengthy decision-making process. If I'm spending a lot of time looking at the menu, I'm not focusing on the people I'm there with. Some people don't mind these costs; others do.

My mother is the opposite of a satisficer. She is what you'd call a maximizer: someone who wants to perform an exhaustive search of all the options in the world, with the assumption that she'll find one that's the most perfect. Maximizers sometimes identify criteria in advance, but even so, they make a decision only after window shopping at great length. Maximizers want to find a particular option that will make them maximally happy.

It's worth noting that neither decision-making style is better or worse. They are simply different. Maximizers might not mind the costs associated with a longer decision-making process. Maybe they even enjoy shopping. Or maybe they perceive a high cost to making decisions too quickly. Regardless, their style is totally valid. But ignorance of these different styles can lead to disaster. As I discovered.

But first, some background:

Two years ago, my husband and I were planning our wedding. We felt fortunate that many relatives wanted to help, and my mother was especially enthusiastic. For the record, my mom rules. She is super smart, loving, and damn, does she know how to throw a great party. She's insanely creative and has a great sense of design. Sadly, I do not have a visually-creative bone in my body, so I was grateful to have her spearhead things like lighting, flowers, and table settings. And yet, we found ourselves having a difficult time communicating about various pieces of the wedding puzzle.

The flowers were particularly challenging. I'd identified some criteria: white flowers that didn't have much pollen and that were reasonably priced in early October. I figured my mother would run with these criteria and just pick the ones that she liked best. And it would be efficient, because I was delegating!

Yet, suddenly, we were spending hours discussing flowers. My mom wanted to tell me about all the places she visited and all the flowers she saw, enumerating their pros and cons. In retrospect, she probably felt proud that she was doing such a thorough job and was keeping me in the loop. For her, this was a natural part of the process. For me, it was excruciating. Way too many of these conversations erupted in fights. Or the tension would simmer and then boil over in some other, unrelated context.

I was banging my head against the wall trying to figure out why my mother and I were having such a hard time. Normally, we have a great relationship. But my relationship with her was suddenly strained in a way that it had never been before. And then I learned about these two decision-making styles, and it changed my life.

Now, I'm not saying that the wedding planning process became easy overnight. But simply being aware of this difference went a long way. I told her about the two different styles and was then better able to explain why I didn't need all the details of her flower hunt. Voicing this preference had been tough in the past because I didn't want her to feel like I didn't care, or worse, that I didn't appreciate all the hard work she was doing. With the common foundation (our mutual awareness of these styles), we could both acknowledge that we approach things differently and would need to tailor our approaches to fit the needs of the other.

So, if you're planning a wedding, buying a TV, or making any decision with someone you love, take heed. Don't let yourself get frustrated, or if you do get frustrated, think about whether you're both approaching this from different places. Even a basic awareness can help! And wine never hurts either.

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