Decision Making

by Ian Moore

What stops us making decisions?

You make a decision when you ‘make up your mind’. The downside of this is that when you make a decision, you have to let go of other ideas, options and possibilities. Some people find this difficult to do. There are many reasons for this, including

  • Not having good decision-making techniques
  • Lack of confidence, not trusting yourself
  • Lack of information
  • Too much information to keep in your head at one time
  • Disagreement between group members
  • Trying to make one big decision that could, and probably should, be split into smaller decisions
  • Level of responsibility – if your decision affects others and carries consequences, you may be reluctant to finalise things
  • Fear of getting the decision wrong or making a mistake
  • Avoiding closure on something because the next step after a decision is into the unknown
  • Being emotionally attached to a certain outcome that is not the logical choice
  • The opportunity cost of making a decision and thus letting go of other options
  • Conflict with our personal values or priorities
  • Social or organisational constraints
  • Not wanting to create winners and losers
  • Uncertainty over the consequences, especially if they seem to lead to a lose-lose situation.

All of these problems will be helped significantly by practising and using the techniques described here. You may need to practise a technique first on simpler decisions, but when you have become comfortable with the technique, you will be able to apply it to more complex situations.

Sometimes we prevaricate over the smallest decisions without knowing why. This may be caused by other things that are happening in our lives. It may be because we have no deadline for the decision and are spending too much time on the details. Some people naturally take more time in making a decision than others; this is not necessarily a bad thing, but if time is critical this can have unfortunate consequences.

Motivation

In order to make a decision, we need some personal benefit for making it. Bear in mind that one major benefit of making a decision is that you no longer need to expend mental energy on it – it is a ‘weight off your mind’. You can move on to other things and remove the stress and internal conflict that not making the decision causes.

So, to motivate yourself to make a decision, you need to focus on how you will feel after making the decision. What will be the benefits of making the decision? What good things will flow from the decision? In this way, you can dispel the fear of making the decision. In the end, it all comes down to the fear of consequences; this produces anxiety, which in turn fuels the fear. It is a downward spiral for many people. To drive out the fear of consequences, look at any decision from these four perspectives:

  1. What would happen if I did?
  2. What would happen if I did not?
  3. What would not happen if I did?
  4. What would not happen if I did not?

Each of these is a subtly different question and you will get great clarity around the consequences of a decision by really thinking about each in turn.

Helping people on your team make decisions

As leader of a team, you are in the perfect situation to help your team members make better decisions.

You can lead by example, using decision-making techniques yourself regularly and in an open way. This demonstrates to your team how important you think structured decision making is and introduces them to the techniques. When your team has become comfortable with a specific technique and are using it regularly by themselves, start introducing new techniques.

Warning

If you are good at decision making yourself, you may not see the need for this. Find out if your team use decision-making techniques and, if not, introduce them to the techniques.

You can provide training in decision-making techniques, either by getting external training for your team or running short, regular training sessions yourself. This introduces them to the techniques and raises the importance of practising decision making in their minds. Alternatively, if one of your team is a natural resource investigator and communicator, why not give this role to them and make it their ‘pet project’?

You can coach your staff individually to be better decision makers. Allocate time to talk with them about their difficulties in decision making and help them to generate the solutions for their improvement themselves (see Coaching).

Over time, the group will develop its own decision-making ‘style’ and even start inventing its own approaches.

Dealing with pressure

Feeling under pressure can disrupt the decision-making process, whatever technique you are using. Applying the techniques in a non-pressured environment will help. Get yourself away from the office and distracting interruptions if possible and concentrate on applying the techniques in a cool, calm and collected manner.