The Challenge: Decisions, Decisions

We make hundreds of them every day. Some big, many small. Some easy, some difficult.

The Question: What’s the Best Way to Decide?

DecisionWhen you decide how to decide, consider both the importance and complexity of the decision. If you tend to make quick decisions, be sure to slow down a bit and think things through carefully when there are serious or long-term ramifications. If, on the other hand, you tend to suffer unnecessarily over decisions, push yourself to decide faster on minor ones.

When you have a variety of decision-making tools, you can choose the one that best fits the decision at hand. As with most skills, decision-making usually improves with practice and learning.

Consider This

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”


Try This: Seven 3-Step Decision-making Models

When you face decisions, consider using one or more of these simple three-step decision-making models.

1. Head, Heart, Gut

Apply logic, feeling and intuition by asking:

•  What does your head say?
•  What does your heart say?
•  What does your gut say?

This method works well for personal decisions where there’s more involved than facts. Along with facts and feelings, get quiet and add a “gut” or intuition check. Notice whether love or fear is driving your decision. Are you reacting to the pressure of personalities or acting on principle? Are you open to new input, or are you simply justifying your previous decisions and actions?

2. Best/Worst/Likely

Research by social scientists shows that people are generally more likely to act to prevent loss than to achieve gains. Some of us tend to optimistically focus on the “half full” glass, while others first see the “half empty” glass. Balance these tendencies out by considering these three questions for each of your options:

•  What’s the best thing that could happen as a result?
•  What’s the worst thing that could happen?
•  What would most likely happen?

For instance, in evaluating investments—what’s the potential upside; what’s the potential downside; what’s most likely? Look to put your money on the option with the largest and likeliest upside, along with the smallest and least likely downside.

3. Criteria Weighting

Most big decisions involve multiple factors. What’s most important in yours?

1. Identify top criteria against which to evaluate your options.
2. Prioritize your top criteria. What’s most important of all?
3. Weigh your options against your criteria, giving extra weight to the very top factors.

Decisions often require tradeoffs. For instance, in considering career options, one might face tradeoffs between factors such as compensation, preferred location, growth opportunities, fit with values and work environment. Choices may be very personal. Identify what’s most important to you and give that weight in your decision.

4. “3D” Decision Making

Look at your options along three different dimensions. For many types of problems, these three dimensions work well:

Time: How does it work in the short-term? How does it work in the long term?

Scope: Is the “Big Picture” idea good? Does the “Up Close” detail work?

Functioning: Does it make sense from both a logical and an emotional standpoint?

Depending on the nature of your decision, other examples of “3D” that could be used to evaluate options would be:

•  Before/During/After
•  Short-term/Intermediate-term/Long-term
•  30,000 feet/On the ground/Under the microscope
•  Stakeholders: Shareholders/Customers/Employees

5. Kidder’s 3 Ways to Resolve Dilemmas

In his very thoughtful book How Good People Make Tough Choices, Rushworth Kidder pointed out that decisions are often especially difficult when they involve choices between two types of good. For instance, in making a decision, one might need to weigh what’s best for individuals versus what’s best for the community as a whole, or balance short-term benefits versus long-term ones. If you’re facing this type of decision, he offers “Three Principles for Resolving Dilemmas”:

•  “Do what’s best for the greatest number of people.”
•  “Follow your highest sense of principle.”
•  “Do what you want others to do to you.”

6. DeBono’s PMI: Plus/Minus/Interesting

One of the most widely used decision making methods is the Pros versus Cons method attributed to Benjamin Franklin. In this method, one makes two columns on a sheet of paper, labels one “Pros” and the other “Cons”, and then lists the pluses and minuses for each option under consideration.

Thinking expert Edward de Bono supplements this simple tool with a third column, “Interesting”, where one lists other factors to consider. Doing so often opens up additional ideas and alternative solutions. Using this tool, then, one asks:

•  What are the pluses of this option?
•  What are the minuses?
•  What’s interesting about it?

Don’t be surprised if you generate better options using the process.

7. Alternative Decision making

We often get stuck thinking a decision means choosing between two (or more) prescribed options. Yes/No. Either/Or. Black/White.

Are you limiting yourself unnecessarily? Consider adding some color and stirring it up:

Think in broader terms: What is it you’re really after? If you think in broader terms, instead of either/or, you might be able to have both. For example, consider the saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” What if you just wanted the memory of the cake? Take a photo and enjoy a slice.

Reframe: Change the question and then look for an entirely different answer. Trying to decide between keeping your full-time job and being a stay-at-home mom? Ask instead, “How can I both use my professional skills/contribute to family finances and have the flexibility to spend more time with my kids?” That might open up an entirely new range of options, from job-sharing to entrepreneurship to a change of careers.

Flip a coin: Can’t decide? Don’t want to? Maybe you don’t have to. This doesn’t mean avoidance, though; “Not to decide” is usually actually a decision to choose the status quo. When any decision is better than no decision or a choice simply has to be made, pick any method—even a random method like flipping a coin or throwing a dart. There, you’ve got a decision. Move forward and don’t look back.

Apply & Evaluate: What Do You Notice?

Experiment with these methods and notice what happens:

  • What types of decisions do you face most often? Which methods work best for you?
  • How can you improve the quality of your decisions?
  • How can you improve your decision-making speed?

Take Action: Now What?

Choose decision-making methods purposefully. With practice, your confidence will increase.

©New Century Leadership LLC 2015