Yale School of Management

For Better Decision-Making, See the Forest and the Trees

Becton Fellowship Program

Understanding your cognitive style can make you better at making complex decisions, according to Batia Wiesenfeld, the Andre J. L. Koo Professor of Management at the New York University Leonard N. Stern School of Business.

Wiesenfeld, who is currently a visiting professor at the Yale School of Management, spoke to students on April 25 as part of the Becton Fellowship Program, which brings practitioners from private and public institutions to Yale SOM to share their professional insights. Deputy Dean Edieal Pinker moderated the conversation.

Wiesenfeld shared her research into “construal levels,” a term used to describe the mental distance from which one considers the actions/impacts of a decision. A person can focus on either the immediate, concrete aspects of a decision, or the more distant, abstract consequences. This aspect of human functioning impacts individuals throughout an organization, as well as the organization itself, Wiesenfeld told students.

Each approach carries certain advantages and disadvantages, Wiesenfeld said. One study, for example, showed that there is a relationship between construal level and cognitive flexibility. “The people who viewed their jobs in a broader way were much better at learning,” Wiesenfeld said.

The good news: people can learn to recognize and tweak their mindsets to better appreciate the scope of a decision and its ramifications. “We have the ability to calibrate whether we look at our actions and events in a more abstract way—to zoom out—or in a more concrete way—to zoom in,” Wiesenfeld said.

The big takeaway for students is the power of developing awareness, Wiesenfeld said: “If you learn to recognize construal level in yourself, and in others, you can influence it to your advantage.”

About the Event

Do you tend to focus more on the task at hand, or on the bigger picture and future consequences of the choices you’re making? The way you think about events and your own actions—and the way you communicate that perspective to others—have far-reaching effects. Batia Mishan Wiesenfeld will describe how they shape us as decision-makers, advice-givers, job seekers, leaders, recipients of change, and entrepreneurs—and how they affect organizational outcomes.

This event is open to the Yale community.

The Becton Fellowship Program was established at the Yale School of Management in 1980 by Becton, Dickinson & Co., a leading global medical instruments supplier, in honor of Henry P. Becton ’37 B.S., company chairman (1961-1987), to bring practitioners from private and public institutions to share their professional insights with faculty and students.

Speaker Biography

Batia Mishan WiesenfeldBatia Mishan Wiesenfeld is the Andre J. L. Koo Professor of Management and chair of the department of management and organizations at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, New York University. She received her Ph.D. in management and organizational behavior from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business. Her teaching and research interests focus on the management of organizational change. She has examined organizations in various industries (e.g., banking, technology, telecommunications, public utilities) undergoing downsizing, restructuring, and reengineering programs, exploring how to maintain the productivity and commitment of remaining employees. She also studies virtual work and telecommuting initiatives, online communities, and the careers of top executives and directors. Her work has been published in numerous academic journals, as well as manager-oriented journals such as Harvard Business Review. She serves as a senior editor of the journal Organization Science, and she has been quoted in newspapers and magazines such as the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. She has appeared on television and radio programs such as Good Morning America.

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