Value of Pertinent Negative in Problem Solving

Decision Making Problem Solving Employee Motivation EQ

We receive more sensory input than we can process through cognition, and behavioral responses. We thus perceive and take in less information that is presented to our senses. This may be useful for quick decision making and efficient utilization of time and energy. However, this can lead to perceptual errors and sub-optimal decision making. Burkus, D (2016, September 14) cites the “pertinent negative” concept as a useful tool to address sub-optimal perception. With Burkus in mind, let’s look at the value of pertinent negative in problem solving.

Pertinent Negative Concept

The pertinent negative is seeing what is there as well as what is missing to give a more complete picture. Herman, A (2016) describes it as, “Saying what isn’t there in addition to what is there to actually give a more accurate picture of what you are looking at.” The concept is a borrowed from medicine. In its original application in medicine, it is used to do diagnosis. The identified pertinent negatives help physicians narrow down to an accurate diagnosis. Herman, A (2016) applies the concept as a problem solving and decision-making conceptual tool.

Value of Pertinent Negative in Management

Having a complete data set of both present and missing variables is critical for accurate decision making. It is here that the pertinent negative is especially helpful. The missing data may be the most critical element. Herman, A (2016) suggests this is more applicable were there are behavioral expectations. Performance areas and under performance areas both need mentioning in performance reviews, progress review meetings, and assessment feedback sessions. In the workplace, the pertinent can be applied to the following:

  • Accident investigations
  • Disciplinary enquiries
  • Problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Employee reference checks
  • Performance evaluations
  • Employee feedback
  • Copy writing etc.

Value of Pertinent Negative in Problem Solving

The presence of something, gives a subjective assumption of the presence of other things. In such cases, the missing element needs mentioning. If two objects have a cause and effect relationship, yet one is missing it critical to mention the missing element; so as not to miss a critical dimension. This is especially pertinent in problem solving and investigations. e.g. Absence of referees from significant past employers in resumes may flag an area that needs further examination.

Applying Pertinent Negative in Decision Making

Herman, A (2016) suggests the following steps in using the pertinent negative for effective problem solving and decision making.

  1. Assess, and analyze the situation in terms of present and missing elements
  2. Decide what is important and eliminate
  3. Articulate findings and ask others to contribute to check if you missed somethings
  4. Act on the findings

Thus, the pertinent negative increases perceptual abilities, perceptual accuracy, and articulation for effective problem solving and decision making.

Pertinent Negative and Broader View

Burkus, D (2016, September 14) suggests that the pertinent negative gives a broader view beyond looking at available data; as we incorporate missing data. Focus on missing information helps to uncover blind spots thus broaden range and scope of analysis. To ensure that the pertinent negative is taken into consideration in such case, the following practices can be helpful:

  • Inviting other views in discussions, and meetings
  • Asking copy editing from colleagues
  • Inviting team input in reports

This way, what we may have missed is captured by others. The above cited practices foster employee involvement and engagement, which motivate job performance, high job satisfaction and citizenship behaviors. Robbins & Judge, (2013) cite a 2010 Harvard Business School study which reported the positive correlation between job engagement and job satisfaction.

Contribution of the Pertinent Negative

The pertinent negative helps managers understand employee behavior and actions. It further helps managers improve their own human and conceptual skills. Notable value is improved management understanding in the following aspects:

  • The reality of perceptual blind sports, errors and inaccuracies. (Herman, A 2016)
  • The value of the pertinent negative as a problem solving and decision-making conceptual tool
  • The benefits of the pertinent negative’s systematic and evidence-based approach to problem solving and decision making

In conclusion, the pertinent negative is an important conceptual tool for deconstructing biases, perceptual errors and inaccuracies. It presents a systematic and evidence-based tool for organizational and personal decision making. It presents a viable alternative problem solving and decision-making approach from intuition.

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