Personal Preparation for Great Decision Making
Getting in Shape to Make the Right Call
Do you sometimes approach an important decision with the nagging feeling that you aren't quite ready to make it?
Successful decision making requires careful preparation. That doesn't just mean getting the facts and figures straight – you can still make a poor decision, even if you're armed with all the data you need. You may not be able to process that information effectively if you're distracted by other tasks, or if you doubt your ability to make the right call.
In this article, we explore tips and techniques for minimizing confusion and self-doubt, so that you can set yourself up to make great decisions.
Intuition and Logic in Decision Making
We all make hundreds of decisions every day. From choosing what to wear or what to feed the children, to deciding how to respond to a competitor's new product.
The decisions we make require a certain amount of mental effort. We can spend a lot of time thinking about big, important choices, but others are intuitive and automatic, and we barely notice we're making them.
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman examined these two ways of thinking in his 2011 book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow." He called them System One and System Two.
- System One: this is the "fast," intuitive and instinctive thinking you do. For example, when you're driving along a familiar road "on autopilot."
- System Two: in this "slow" mode, we address problems consciously and deliberately. These problems can include complicated or important business issues.
Kahneman says that understanding how the two systems interact and influence each other can help you to lay the foundations for making better decisions.
You can learn more about the relationship between intuition and logic, and how this relates to decision making, in our article, BRAIN, BRAN and BRAND.
Finding the Right Mind Space
It's hard to make good decisions when you're juggling a dozen ideas at once. You can get distracted and fail to give the decision your full attention. According to Kahneman, System One thinking has a tendency to take over and rush you to a conclusion.
So, it's important to clear your mind of clutter and focus on making an effective decision consciously and logically. Concentrate on one aspect of a problem at a time, and work your way through it calmly.
You can use mindfulness and centering techniques to help with this. Mindfulness means being fully aware of your thoughts, emotions and actions in the moment. Similarly, centering is a visualization technique to help you to focus on the here and now to manage stress.
Being Aware of Bias
One pitfall of System One thinking is that it is influenced by our biases, which can lead to poor decision making. For example, we may give greater weight to the first piece of information that we receive, even if it's less accurate or useful than subsequent data.
We are also prone to "confirmation bias." This is when you favor information that backs up your existing beliefs. It's important to challenge such assumptions and biases. Our articles, Avoiding Psychological Bias in Decision Making, Critical Thinking, and The Ladder of Inference can help you to do this.
Avoiding bias is just one of the dangers to be aware of when making decisions. You can learn how to identify and avoid others in our article, 10 Common Decision-Making Mistakes.
Trusting Yourself and Your Team
Feelings of self-doubt are not unusual when you're responsible for a major decision. After all, your decision could impact your organization's profits, or the livelihoods of your team members.
With so much at stake, it's only natural and sensible that you'd want to gather and assess as much data as you can before making your decision. But in most cases there is no perfect solution that satisfies everyone involved.
You have to trust yourself to make the right call with the information you have. If you keep searching for the perfect solution, you may end up unable to decide at all. You can learn how to avoid this scenario with our one-hour training session, How to Avoid Decision-Making Paralysis.
Remember, as a manager, you were likely given responsibility for making decisions because of the trust your boss and organization has in you.
Trust is also important when you're taking a complex decision as part of a team. You can explore strategies for this in our article, Building Trust Inside Your Team. These strategies include Leading By Example, and promoting open and honest communication with your people.
Using Your Time Effectively
Most decisions are made under some degree of time pressure. So, avoid procrastination, or your System One thinking may kick in and rush you into making a poor choice.
You will likely make much better decisions if you use the time you have effectively. Knowing how to prioritize can help you to stay calm and create a space in which to think and focus on the problem.
You can take our quiz, How Good Is Your Time Management?, to identify the aspects of time management you need help with, and find the tools for tackling them.
You can learn a systematic, seven-step approach for making great decisions with our article and video, How to Make Decisions.
Our minds operate in "fast" and "slow" modes when making decisions, according to psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Understanding this process, and preparing yourself mentally in advance, can help you to make decisions more effectively.
You can avoid the confusion and stress of decision making by using mindfulness and centering, trusting in your own ability to make good decisions, and making the best possible use of your time.
Understanding how your mind approaches problems can also help you to eliminate biases and improve the quality of your judgment.