Make good choices.

My kids have been hearing that for years; from me, from their mom, from their teachers. But how are they supposed to know what is a good choice? And what really motivates them to make good choices?

I recently read an interesting article by David Brooks, titled “The Choice Explosion.” Brooks discusses the dramatic rise of choices available to us and how, despite having more options, we don’t choose as well as we should. The evidence is everywhere — corporate mergers that fail to create value, surging consumer debt, people who are miserable in their chosen careers. Brooks argues that we need lessons in self-awareness in order to make good choices.

The article is a great pitch for the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI). Those of us who work with the SDI on a regular basis see firsthand how people’s motives and strengths shape their choices, and how greater self-awareness leads to better choices.

One of the ways that motives shape our choices is by filtering the information we receive. Your Motivational Value System (MVS) helps you tune out distractions and zero in on opportunities to express your concern for People, Performance or Process. Each MVS type does this uniquely. Blue MVSs see opportunities to help others. Reds focus on ways to act quickly and get things done. Greens recognize when things are inconsistent or unfair, and work to restore order and objectivity.

Regardless of your MVS type, your motives influence your perception and the choices you make based on that perception.

So, if motives shape our choices, it’s the positive intent (helping, achieving or clarifying) behind our motives that gives us a sense of rightness about our choices. Brooks mentions the importance of assuming positive intentions in others. I hear that advice a lot. But like “Make good choices,” it’s the sort of hollow platitude we tend to agree with without stopping to ask what it really means or how to do it.

The SDI helps us learn how to assume positive intent. It starts with self-awareness, but requires a next step: others-awareness. When teams experience the SDI together and members talk about their MVS’s, they learn to assume positive intent — to start with the belief that others have good intentions. Any time you see a behavior or outcome that bothers you, ask yourself “What is this person’s MVS?”

Let’s put this to practice. Say a colleague with a Red-Blue MVS does something frustrating. Ask yourself how his or her action might have been intended to inspire others to perform their best, or a similar question that reflects a Red-Blue MVS. I bet you’ll find something in the answer that sounds like positive intent.

If you cannot find any positive intent, then ask the person directly. Assuming positive intent does not have to be a purely mental exercise. A conversation with another person, especially if you know their MVS, can help you discover positive intent and strengthen the relationship overall.

I think making good choices relates to positive intent. If most choices are well intended — and I believe they are — then we need to understand the bedrock motives and values (aka MVS) that influence choices. You might say, and I’ve heard it a lot, that some people have negative intent. Yet I’ve never met a person who says they have negative intent. I have, however, met people who say they feel in conflict and are acting to defend themselves against what they perceive as a threat.

The problem is, our focus narrows as we get into the deeper stages of conflict. It’s hard to make good choices when we only see ourselves and the problem (as in Stage 2). What you need to do, and this requires self-awareness, is find your way back to your MVS — where you’ll make your best choices.

Brooks believes “We need lessons in self-awareness.” He’s right — and SDI is the textbook.

timTim Scudder, PhD is a partner at PSP, Inc. and the coauthor of the highly acclaimed book Have a Nice Conflict. As a consultant and facilitator, Tim specializes in helping individuals, teams, and organizations reach their potential through improved relationship, teamwork, and strategic skills. Tim is also the world’s leading expert on Relationship Awareness Theory and the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI).

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