“Cost-benefit analysis” – Is the term offensive when used outside a business context?

You would not give it a second thought if you heard the words “cost-benefit analysis” used in a business context.  It would be expected.

Weighing up decisions, proposals has been a necessity in my career so cost-benefit analyses have been a natural part of my decision making process, and unfortunately, a part of my vocabulary.  When I use the phrase in non-business contexts though, it evokes vehement responses.  When it comes to relationships, I realised that people don’t like to be reduced to the result of a “cost-benefit analysis”.

Cost-benefit analysis in relationshipsThe thing is, whether we acknowledge it or not, we do it all the time.  It may not be as clear cut as a business proposal and not necessarily a conscious process but it is, nevertheless done.  Do we continue in relationship with our partner?  Do we continue to invest in a friend when it no longer seems to be a two-way street?  Shall we go out with these people for dinner this weekend?  When we answer yes, we have made up our minds that the “benefit” or the potential benefit outweighs whatever “costs” might be involved.

Why then is the phrase so offensive?

We don’t like being reduced to a clinical, unfeeling equation.  We don’t like to admit that we do the same to others, and as a good friend rightly pointed out, relationships are complex.  My view is that cost-benefit analyses are neither clinical, unfeeling nor lacking in complexity and they certainly do not have to be finite.  It only appears to be finite when the result is a negative answer i.e. the costs outweighs the benefits.  This is when most pain is felt in analyses involving relationships.  Interestingly, in business, the analysis is done to prevent pain – the pain of failure.

I wrote this post over a year ago when I was having this discussion with several people and it has been sitting in my “drafts” folder for me to ponder the cost-benefit of whether to publicly broadcast these thoughts!

Does this give you any food for thought?

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I’m a business coach passionate about helping women make the impossible possible! Do get in touch. I would love to have a chat to see how I can help.

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Comments 3

  1. Hi Mi, this is a fun blog for me (and that may sound funny). But, one of my favorite theories as a grad student was the “exchange theory.” We do it all the time whether in business or not. It is similar to cost benefit, but you essentially weigh your options beyond a relationship against the benefit of negotiating within the relationship. If your benefits outside the relationship are better, you move out (say from an abusive relationship or if you have a bully boss) or you realize you have a stronger hand to negotiate (say that you engage in joint therapy or for a raise or a move in your job position). People don’t talk exchange. They just do it. Thanks for jogging my brain. Nice benefit. Peggy

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