Are You A Good Decision Maker?
Decisions, decisions, decisions. It seems like every time we turn
around, we have to make more decisions. The question is, "Are
you a good decision maker?" If you aren't (or don't think you
are), there is no need to worry. Decision-making is a skill that can
be learned by anyone. Although some people may find this particular
skill easier than others, everyone applies a similar process.
There are two basic kinds of decisions: those that are arrived at
using a specific process and those that just happen. Although both
kinds of decisions contain opportunities and learning experiences,
there are definite advantages to using a specific process to make
a decision. The most obvious advantage is the reduced level of stress
you will experience.
Wise decisions are decisions that are made using a definite process.
They are based on the values and perceptions of the decision-maker
and include carefully considered alternatives and options along with
periodic reassessments of the decision and its effects. Wise decisions
may or may not follow societal norms and expectations. However, they
are right for the decider based on what she knows at that point in
time about both her options as well as herself.
Ten Steps to Wise Decision-Making
This process can be applied to any situation where you need to make
an important decision. If you follow these ten basic steps, you will
find yourself making wiser decisions, both in your professional as
well as your personal life.
Define, as specifically as possible, what the decision is
that needs to be made. Is this really your decision or someone
else's? Do you really need to make a decision? (If you do not
have at least two options, there is no decision to be made.) When
does the decision need to be made? Why is this decision important
to you? Who will be affected by this decision? What values does
this decision involve for you?
Think where you could find more information about possible
alternatives. If you only come up with a few alternatives,
you may want to get more information. Additional information generally
leads to more alternatives. Places where you can look for the
information you need include friends, family, clergy, co-workers,
state and federal agencies, professional organizations, online
services, newspapers, magazines, books, and so on.
Check out your alternatives. Once you have a list of alternatives,
use the same sources of information to find out more about the
specifics of each option. You will find that the more information
you gather, the more ideas will pop into your head. Be sure to
write these down and check them out too.
Sort through all of your alternatives. Now that you have
your list of alternatives, it is time to begin evaluating them
to see which one works for you. First, write down the values
that would come into play for each alternative. Second,
look for the alternatives which would allow you to use the greatest
number of your values. Third, cross the alternatives off
the list which do not fit into your personal value framework.
Visualize the outcomes of each alternative. For each remaining
alternative on your list, picture what the outcome of that alternative
will look like. Here, too, it helps if you write out your impressions.
Which alternative "fits" you? Review your remaining
alternatives and decide which ones feel most comfortable to you.
These are your wise decisions. If you are very happy about a decision,
but are not as comfortable with its possible outcome, this is
a clue that this is not a wise decision for you. On the other
hand, you may dislike an alternative, but be very excited about
the possible outcome. This decision would probably not be wise
for you either. If you feel you can live with both the alternative
as well as the possible outcome, this is the wise decision you
Get started! Once you have made your decision, get moving
on it. Worrying or second-guessing yourself will only cause you
grief. You have done your very best for the present. You always
have the option of changing your mind in the future if you want
to. Remember, no decision is set in stone.
How is it going? Be sure to review your decision at specified
points along the road. Are the outcomes what you expected? Are
you happy with the outcomes? Do you want to let the decision stand
or would you like to make some adjustments? If the decision did
not come out the way you planned, go through the complete decision-making
process again. In the process, answer the following questions.
Did I not have enough information? What values actually came into
play? Were they my values or someone else's? Remember, you can
always change your mind!
Common Decision-Making Mistakes
As much as we would like to believe that we do not have any prejudices
or biases, the fact is that everyone does. The more aware you are
of yours, the better off you will be. The main reason everyone has
their own way of viewing the world is because our brains simply cannot
take in everything, at least not on a conscious level.
Have you ever tried to learn ten new things all at once? If you have,
you know that it is very easy to become overwhelmed and to end up
learning very little at all. That is because of the way the brain
works. Our brains screen and categorize information so that we can
understand the world around us without being overwhelmed by it. We
get into trouble when we fail to realize that many of the perceptions
we hold are based on what society (i.e., parents, teachers, the church,
all institutions, etc.) teach us, not what we actually know to be
Below is a list of the most common decision-making mistakes. By learning
about these pitfalls now, you will be able to avoid them in the future.
Relying too much on "expert" information. Oftentimes,
people have a tendency to place too much emphasis on what "experts"
say. Remember, experts are only human and have their own set of
biases and prejudices just like the rest of us. By seeking information
from a lot of different sources, you will get much better information
than you would if you focused all of your energy on only one source.
Overestimating the value of information received from others.
People have a tendency to overestimate the value of certain individuals
in our society and underestimate the value of others. For instance,
experts, authority figures, parents, high status groups, people
who seem to have it all together, and people we respect have a
way of swaying our opinion based simply on the fact that we believe
they know more than we do. When you find yourself doing this,
ask yourself: Do they know as much about this problem as I do?
Are their values the same as mine? Have they had any personal
experiences with a problem like mine? In other words, keep their
opinions in perspective.
Underestimating the value of information received from others.
Whether we realize it or not, we also have a tendency to discount
information we receive from individuals such as children, low
status groups, women (yes, believe it!), the elderly, homemakers,
blue-collar workers, artists, etc. This is unfortunate since a
lot of times these groups can paint a good picture of the "other
side" of your problem. In other words, these groups may use
entirely different values and perceptions in their answers to
your questions. The result is a bigger picture perspective of
what the issues really are. Just make a note that if you find
yourself discounting the information you receive from anyone,
make sure you ask yourself "why".
Only hearing what you want to hear or seeing what you want
to see. Try this exercise. Ask a friend to look around them
and make note of everything that is green. Now, have them close
their eyes. Once their eyes are closed, ask them to tell you what
around them is red. Almost everyone you ask will not be able to
tell you what was red because they were focusing on what was green.
Our perceptions work the same way. If we have expectations or
biases that we are not aware of, we tend to see what we want to
see. Likewise, if someone tries to tell us something we do not
want to hear, we simply do not hear them. This is a common mistake
that many people make. The key is to be aware of your own prejudices
and expectations while at the same time staying open to everything
that comes your way.
Not listening to your feelings or gut reactions. Have
you ever made a decision only to have it be followed by a major
stomach ache or headache? This is your body talking to you. Our
brains are constantly taking in more information than we can consciously
process. All of this extra information gets buried in our subconscious.
Although we may not be able to retrieve this information, our
body stores it for us until it is needed. In moments when we need
to make a decision, our bodies provide clues to the answer through
feelings or gut reactions. Unfortunately, our society teaches
us to ignore these feelings. But by tuning into your intuition,
you will find that you will make much better decisions in the