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To Maximize or Satisfy, That is the Question

The assessment of options, the decision to make a choice, and the satisfaction with that choice is applicable in all forms of decision making – from choosing a partner to a new pair of shoes.

Whether you’re prone to seeking out the best of all possible options or if you’re able to find satisfaction with an option that ticks enough of the boxes, there is more for you to consider when making the best decision.

Are you a Maximizer or a Satisficer? What about your partner? Your clients? Your colleagues and team members? Understanding how both schools of thought make their decisions will help you better understand yourself, your partner, your clients, colleagues, and team members. Though you may always believe your way is the best way (duh), incorporating tactics of the other side can help you get an even better result and be happier with your choices.

It’s been well studied that as humans we benefit from fewer options. When browsing Wayfair for a new lamp one will typically filter the feed to those that fit the need more closely (table lamp over floor, the material, shape, number of bulbs, price, etc). The idea that there is one perfect lamp and no matter how long it takes, I will find it, is the position of a Maximizer. Maximizers are out for the best and prefer not to settle for less. They will consider vastly more options and will expand their criteria if they find that a higher price or different brand may afford them a “better” result. Satisficers, on the other hand, will find the item that works well enough for their needs and will be satisfied, even if they ultimately settled for something less than. Satisficers often compromise and while their ultimate choice may not be perfect, it’s good enough.

After making their decision, a Maximizer tends to continue wondering if there’s a still-better option out there. Did they really make the best choice? Did they really consider all the options? Versus Satisficers, Maximizers tend to choose an option that actually does give them more, but they tend to be less satisfied, continuing to question their own judgment. Satisficers make the choice that's fine. They assess a more limited amount of options, compromise on more facets of the options, and make a choice they can live with and be happy about. While Satisficers’ choices are not as optimized as Maximizers, they feel more satisfied with them and ultimately more satisfied with their life as it is – there’s not a lot of keeping up with the Jonses when it comes to Satisficers.

Both types can learn from each other. For example, a Maxmizing home buyer may miss out on the home they’d be perfectly happy in because they’re looking for the “best” one – which they reason may come on the market next week, “Let’s just wait and see…” Even if they do find one down the line they can finally pull the trigger on, even if it’s not the forever home they envisioned, they’ll continue watching the market to see what else comes up (it’s a bit masochistic, but they can’t help themselves). No matter what decision they finally make, Maximizers are hard pressed to be truly satisfied with their choice; they continue to believe that there is a better option out there – if they could only examine all possible options. A Maximizer needs to learn that there is compromise in every decision; it’s in the learning to be happy with your choice and satisfied with where you are in the moment that they can find peace and maybe even appreciate how far they’ve come to get where they are. There is opportunity for an important pause after achieving a goal where recognition, celebration, and integration happens. Maximizers often move too quickly on to their next goal, the next best thing, to appreciate where they are.

Satisficers are pros at being at peace. They are not going to push and seek out the absolute best possible, ultimate answer. Satisficers restrict the number of options and choose the best from what’s before them, typically landing on a choice that is not the best they could have made because they, opposed to Maximizers, don’t explore enough options. Satisficers don’t push themselves to be the best, but they rest easy all the same, satisfied that they’ve chosen the “good enough” option. Satisficers can stand to be a bit more choosey, to push a little harder. They settle when they can excel. They rest on their laurels, and do so happily. It can be difficult to get a Satisficer to go the extra mile because they’re perfectly comfortable where they are. Satisficers need to work harder to expand their comfort zone, to learn that they don’t have to adopt the full Maximizer way in order to do just a little bit better. Satisficers need to work harder to expand the boundaries of their comfort zones, to learn from experience that they can both do better and still feel peaceful and satisfied.

Which one are you? If you’re a Maximizer, where can you stand to slow down and limit your field of options? If you’re a Satisficer, how can you push yourself to expand your perceived limits and see greater possibilities for yourself? Maximizers: In what ways can you find more satisfaction in what you already have? Satisificers: Where can you do more to make your life more than what you’ve settled for?

Consider how these ways of thinking and decision making show up in the people around you. Do you have a client who seems to never be satisfied, who seems to look for perfection before pulling the trigger? Do you have a team member who settles for less than you know they could achieve (for themselves and maybe even for their clients)? How can you better communicate with them to help them reach a satisfying decision while bringing in more balance from the other side?

Don’t try to change someone’s decision making process, it will only frustrate both of you and will likely result in them digging more firmly into their patterned behavior. Instead here are a few ideas to try…

For Maximizers:

  • Help them keep their checklist in line – they need to remember what they’re looking for and, when they continue doing the most, they can be reminded about all the extras they’ve already achieved in their current options.

  • Offer them loads of information. Show them options that will work for them and some that won’t to help satiate them in their decision.

  • Cheerlead any inching toward making an actual decision.

  • Remind them that perfect is often the enemy of done. Deadlines are your friend.

  • Have patience when they need to look at just a few more options.

For Satisficers:

  • Give them extra options just beyond the limits they expressed to show what can be achieved if they push a little harder.

  • Come from a position of value – Sure it costs a bit more, but look at how much more you get.

  • Play What If?: When they’re close to settling and you can see how they could get a more advantageous outcome, ask them “What if you _______?”

  • When they’re ready to settle for less than they can get, remind them of what they said they wanted and show them how they can get more than they’re about to settle for.

  • Have patience when you have to repeat exercises and slowly lead them to expanding the vision of what’s possible for them. Expanding comfort zones can be scary.

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