“Let’s Limit Our Choices To No More Than Two At A Time”

We like choices, but sometimes they can be overwhelming. Go into an ice cream parlor with its myriad of flavors, and then toppings on top of that – and served in a bowl, cup, or cone. We stand there mesmerized by the choices – unless we know ahead of what we want to get and then don’t change our mind given the numerous choices that could confuse us. 

When we buy things online or in-person, we often think that we like lots of choices. However, if we were to step back or view it in instant-replay, we’d likely find that we were deciding between two items – possibly three, but generally just two. We might evaluate considerably more than that, but it frequently comes down to “A” or “B.”

We go into a restaurant and get a multi-page menu. We find many things that we like, but then we begin to narrow our focus to a pasta dish, a seafood entree, burgers, steaks, ribs, or something else that appeals to us. Then we hone in on that to select the one, two, or sometimes three top choices before making our selection. Typically we are “in the mood” for just one or two of those many choices. Then one of them stands out more than the other.

Walk into a department store and stroll by the cosmetics counter in the center of the store. There are dozens of fragrances, but we don’t often sample more than a couple. If we do, we lose track of the scent and can’t really distinguish a key characteristic of one over another – they tend to blend and run over each other. A sales professional knows this and will limit us to two or three samples – and will vary where they are applied to give each a fair opportunity. While we are capable of distinguishing between many scent, colors, and flavors, when we experience too many of them at essentially the same time, our senses are overloaded.

Go out home or car shopping. Look at many different possibilities and get confused until something stands out. Then a careful viewing of that and one or two other close possibilities helps us make the selection. In fact, when showing real estate to a prospective purchaser, never should multiple properties be viewed without first eliminating all but one or two that are still in the running for a final selection. It’s always comparing the “best so far” with the next one and then keeping the winner of that to go look at the next one – if a final choice hasn’t been made.

We know that people with cognitive limitations should not be asked multiple choice questions to keep from confusing them but ones that can be answered yes or no. Yes-no questions involve two choices – and sometimes a “don’t know,” “possibly,” or “it depends” when the decision isn’t clear. We are simply asking if something is desirable or likable or not. If not, we move on to the next possibility. This is preferable than presenting multiple choices initially. First, our brain likes order and prefers to choose between a couple of options. Second, we may not know if some of the dismissed choices had merit but just got in the way of other possibilities. Maybe it was easier to toss those aside in a group than give them more careful individual inspection and consideration.

When we are preparing and presenting remodeling or renovation possibilities, let’s keep this same concept in mind. We might have many ways to approach a bathroom makeover – for general aesthetics, for function, or for special requirements. We could present several possibilities to our client to show them that we have range and creativity and to illustrate that they are not “locked in” to the first thing that comes along or to just a few ways to approach the solution.

Rather than starting with several ideas to present to the client, we start with just one or two, and use that to sound them out as to what they like or still need to see. Then, another rendition can be introduced – with one or both of the first ideas being put aside. Maybe there is more work to do, maybe not. Eventually, the client will decide on the design they want to go with, even if not all of the designs were shown to them. There is nothing that says they must see everything before making a decision just as there is nothing that says we must try on or inspect every item in our size when buying a new outfit.

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