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November 9, 2016

Improving Decision Making: Techniques, Tools and Tips

Lucy Bishop


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I hold my hands up. I'm terrible at decision making. From the most basic to the biggest of decisions, it can take me ages to make my mind up.

The Perils of Too Much Choice

Yes, it's great to have choice, and we've never had more choice than we do now. But sometimes it can be overwhelming. Even the weekly shop now comes with a multitude of choices... Do I want to buy free-range? Organic? Gluten-free? Shall I splash out on a premium product or stick to value? Maybe I should start that diet that I'm always putting off and go for healthy options.

I could spend ages pondering the benefits of wheatgerm bread over brown… but I've got things to do and places to be!

Tough Decisions

I don't worry so much about getting my decision wrong when it comes to shopping for food. However, when I need to make an important decision, it comes down to knowledge. I like to weigh up the pros and cons. Perhaps do a bit of research and ask around for advice. Yes, sometimes this can mean that it takes me a while to actually reach a decision. But, once I do, I know that I’ve made the most informed choice that I can.

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Techniques and Tools to Make Better Decisions

So, let's explore some practical tips and tricks you can use to ensure that you're making the right decisions for you.

Get to the Root of the Problem

First, establish the problem that needs to be solved, or the question that needs to be answered. Perhaps you've been tasked with developing a new social media strategy, and you need to decide which platforms to invest in. Consider the key stakeholders; what are their goals for the project? What's your budget? How many team members will you have to support you?

Only when you have a comprehensive view of the issue, who's involved, and any potential obstacles, can you begin to narrow down your options and make a decision.

Work Backward

Alternatively, start with your end goal and work in reverse. What do you want to achieve? How will this decision help you to get there?

By working backward, you can more accurately determine the scale and impact of your decision, and predict possible complications.

Lead With the Facts

Any good decision-making process is based on a solid foundation of information. Your decision may have wider reaching implications than you realize so you'll need to gather as much accurate and credible data as you can to make an informed decision.

But be sure to remain neutral. You may think you already know the best course of action but don't let this cloud your judgment. Gather any and all information related to your decision – not just that which will support your own internal biases.

Focus on Yourself

Soft skills are crucial but often under-utilized when it comes to making decisions. You may be tempted to set aside emotions and lead with your head but developing soft skills such as empathy and emotional intelligence can go a long way to making tough decisions.

Consider who and how many might be affected by your choice. What might they think of your decision? Can you get their input?

Get Outside Help

There's no shame in asking for help particularly when faced with an important decision. If you're struggling to make the right move, don't be afraid to confide in a trustworthy ally. Or perhaps you could even enlist the help of a coach or mentor.

There really is no one right way to tackle a difficult decision. So, if you find yourself going round in circles, you may find a combination of the above techniques helpful.

Useful Resources:

How Good Is Your Decision Making?

Group Decision Making (Skillbook)

Quantitative Pros and Cons

How to Make Decisions

Decision Tree Analysis

The Vroom-Yetton Decision Model

Lucy Bishop

About the Author:

Senior editor Lucy has over 10 years' experience writing, editing and commissioning content. She regularly contributes to the Mind Tools blog, heads up Mind Tools' video learning series, hosts our Neurodiversity Panel, and particularly enjoys exploring and experimenting with new video formats. When she's not producing fantastic new learning content, she can be found enjoying nature with her two kids and delving into the latest book on her very long reading list!

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8 comments on “Improving Decision Making: Techniques, Tools and Tips”

    1. Glad to hear you found the blog of interest and value. Hope you are able to use some of the tips to help you make decisions.

  1. Though there might not be a universal formula for a decision-making process,there are some factors that one should consider,like the cost involved,time factor and sensitivity of the decision.
    It is therefore advisable to do a pilot plan for the desired decision and observe the results.
    A decision-maker with therefore be able to know what works and what doesn't.

    1. Thanks Maurice for highlights those important points. There are many factors that contribute to decisions and by using some tools just helps in that process.

  2. There are no rational decisions. All decisions have emotions built into them, and we build the rationale for the decision subsequently.

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