Entrepreneurs often have to sort through multiple perspectives with colleagues and business partners to decide on the right course of action, make tough decisions, and get the job done in the best way possible. It’s easy to become overwhelmed or frustrated trying to pick a course. The secret to smoother decision-making may lie in a simple strategy: having an imaginary dialogue.
A new study published in the journal Psychological Science has found that making decisions in the form of an imagined, written dialogue—even one that's only in your head—may lead to a more comprehensive examination of an issue, and potentially, a more effective meeting point between ideas.
Julia Zavala, adjunct professor of psychology at Mercy College in New York, and lead study author, led sixty undergraduate students in a test scenario where they had to decide which of two opposing fictional candidates would make the best mayor of a fictional city. Participants had to argue for and against both candidates and make a decision at the end by writing an imagined dialogue between the two candidates based on materials provided. A control group did not engage in the inner dialogue, merely made their decision based on positions provided by the researchers. “What we found is that those that did construct a solitary discourse showed a better representation of both positions than those who did not,” Zavala says.
They hypothesized that being asked to repeatedly go back and forth between the two positions allowed the participants to form “a richer representation, not only of each position, and the evidence bearing on it, but also of the positions in relation to one another.”
Writing helps you understand others
Social scientists have long seen the benefits of literal dialogue, which allows people to voice and hear each other’s perspectives with more open minds. This written dialoguing is more in line with “role-taking,” a concept in psychology in which the more you can put yourself mentally and emotionally into another person’s experience, the more likely you are to have empathy for their experience. “Role taking is a powerful mechanism that has the potential to substitute for actual social exchange,” Zavala and co-author write in the study. Empathy leads to thinking outside the box of your own expectations and views, which entrepreneurs are constantly required to do.
Writing helps you think more clearly
Not to mention, not everyone does their best thinking in the echo chamber of their own mind, either. Writing has been shown in numerous capacities to help clarify ideas, put goals in closer reach, and release the stress of anxiety. When you write things out, you make them concrete, can break them into manageable bites, and have a record of thoughts that might otherwise become absorbed into the void of a workday.
Writing improves emotional and physical health
Writing has also been shown to offer emotional relief when writing about stressful situations. A 2014 study on expressive writing found that “The immediate impact of expressive writing is usually a short-term decrease in distress, negative mood and physical symptoms, and an increase in positive mood compared with controls.” These emotional benefits have physical benefits as well, leading to decreases in blood pressure, improved immune function, better working memory, all factors that can lead to better productivity in your work. They also found that writing through stressful situations reduced absenteeism at work.
Though Zavala’s study tested only written dialogues, an imagined dialogue might work just as well. “Taking on the role of a position you don’t necessarily agree with can help you better represent both sides of the issue,” Zavala says. Even better, this kind of inner dialoguing doesn’t have to take much time. Zavala was impressed by the quickness of the results. “This is a short little task they did in forty-five minutes. To see that simply constructing a dialogue in that time frame had an impact on the representation of the two positions was pretty compelling.”
The next time you find yourself mulling over a tough decision, consider dashing down a dialogue. Accessing multiple perspectives might lead to a better decision, and relieve a little stress in the process.