In our communication textbooks, we’re beginning to talk more and more about communication as a process of making choices. An interesting concept in this connection is satisficing. [What follows is a very preliminary attempt to begin an integration of this concept into communication generally.] All communication involves making choices—what we say or don’t say, who we talk to and who we avoid, how we dress to convey the desired image, and of course choices in our relationships—with whom we form friendships or romantic relationships. Of course, we never have all the information we’d need to make the very best choice. And even if that information were available, it would take a great deal of time and energy to locate and digest it. After all, how much time do you want to spend researching the best television before buying one? So what do we do when we need to make a choice, or solve a problem, or reach a decision?
One theory is that in our decision making we are guided by “bounded rationality” (developed by economist Herbert A. Simon, Models of Man: Social and Rational. NY: Wiley, 1957). Because we are all limited by our own reasoning abilities, our inability to predict the future, and the obvious limitations on securing the relevant information we seek to make choices that we know are not perfect but instead are reasonable, adequate, practical, and attainable. We become satisficers (a combination of satisfaction and sacrifice). That is, we look to make choices that will satisfy us somewhat but that we also recognize will involve sacrificing the ideal or perfect solution.
In most things, most people are satisficers—in finding a job, selecting a college, buying a car, choosing a college major—but there are others who are not satisficers. These maximizers seek to make only the perfect choice. In the process, they fail to make a decision because they want to be absolutely sure their decision is the perfect one. And so, for example, they may date all their lives and never settle down with one person because they’re looking for an ideal that, of course, they’ll never find. Some researchers put the magic number at 12 which seems high to me. Assuming you wish to settle down with one person (and certainly this is not the only alternative), once you’ve dated 12 people, you need to select the person who is a reasonable, adequate, practical, and attainable choice. If you go much above 12 then you may be asking for a choice that doesn’t really exist. On the other hand, if you make a selection before an adequate survey of the available choices, you may be settling more than you really need to.