How To Become More Decisive

How To Become More Decisive

Have you experienced analysis paralysis or made a decision that you regretted and wish that there was a time machine to take you back in time? In this post, I will discuss what decisive means, and how to become more decisive in different areas of your life. We face situations when we need to make decisions on a daily basis. Some of those are trivial like what to have for breakfast or a choice of clothing in the morning, while others may be more important like whether to pursue a relationship or buy a property.

Why Is Decisiveness Important?

Oxford dictionary offers this decisiveness meaning: – “The ability to make decisions quickly and confidently”. Making choices in a split second is necessary for time-critical situations. A doctor in an ICU or a police officer in a dangerous situation does not have the luxury of deliberation as it can literally cost people’s lives. Similarly while having less at stake professional athletes may have to make quick decisions to outsmart an opponent. A delay in action can have serious consequences. A lack of decisiveness will make you unable to perform effectively in these roles.

The confidence of the decision-maker is equally important, especially when working in a group. Confident leaders are inspiring as they seem to know what they are doing. A person that is confident in their actions is likely to make others feel confident about their ability to make decisions. Decisiveness will make you a better leader. The great news is that you don’t need to be born with a special gene to be decisive. As with a lot of things, it is a skill that can be learnt and mastered.

Why Being Decisive Is Not Enough?

Decisiveness is only a part of the decision-making expertise. I’m sure there are examples of people that perfectly fit the oxford dictionary definition who gambled their life savings away in a quick and confident manner. We also need to be able to make good decisions. In some cases to make a good decision, you need to follow a structured process that may take time and input from other people involved.

A hastily made decision without consideration of potential implications can get you the opposite of the desired outcome. These decisions have a name. They are called mistakes. To accomplish goals you need to maximize the ratio of good decisions vs wrong decisions.

Let’s have a look at a few ways that you can make great decisions decisively.

How Can You Get Better At Making Decisions?

Before jumping let’s talk about what decision making actually is. In essence, it is choosing a solution out of many options that will get you the most desired outcome. Using the Die Hard movie as an example this would be the moment when Bruce Willis’s character is choosing between red or black wire when defusing the bomb. Thankfully, in reality, things are a little less dramatic but more complicated.

A Recognition primed decision or RPG is a decision-making model that is used by professionals in time-critical jobs like fire brigade captains or trauma unit nurses. These jobs by definition require decisiveness combined with the ability to take the right action. As you can see the success of this model is reliant on the person’s prior experience and recognition of potential solutions based on goals and similarity. A decision maker will revert to the left side of the model to gain more knowledge before he can go back to select a solution.

Recognition-Primed Decision (RPD) Model Source: Gary Klein

Hence the ability to make good decisions is reliant on three factors: knowledge, available and accurate information, and decision-maker skills in analysing and choosing the most suitable option fast. We will discuss these aspects in detail below.

Become An Subject Matter Expert

The ability to make the right decisions fast comes from a clear understanding of a situation, available options and consequences of making a decision. There is no better way to get that understanding is to become an expert in these types of situations. Knowledge of all potential options comes with experience and this is the reason why experts spend years perfecting their craft. 

To become an expert you need to focus on the three Es: Education, Exposure, and Experience with the effort and time ratio spend in each ratio of 10-20-70%. This means that to gain learning we need to spend 10% of our efforts in formal training, 20% in learning from our peers and 70% from practising the learnt skill.

Consult Experts

While becoming an SME is a great approach for your professional field you can’t be an expert in every part of your life where you need to make a decision. When buying a house it makes sense to consult real estate experts that can help with suggesting good areas to look at, perform inspections as well as handle negotiations on your behalf. Experts can analyze potential options and provide you with recommendations. 

That does not mean that you rely on someone to make a decision for you. You are still accountable for the outcome of whatever decision you make. Hence choose experts wisely and gain a high-level understanding of the concepts for you to effectively communicate and select the right option.

Learn Other Points of View

Humans by nature perceive reality from a single point of view with all our biases in the mix. This narrow vision limits what we can see and affects the decision-making process. To overcome this limitation we can look for other opinions. Having a better understanding of the issue from different stakeholders will help you to gather more data points for making the right choice. Consulting other stakeholders can also remove cognitive bias based on prior experience or perceptions.

Rely On Logic And Data

Humans are irrational and emotional beings. Despite knowing the rare odds of winning a lottery we still buy tickets in hope of winning the main prize. When we are blinded by emotions we are not able to make the right decisions. This is when logic and numbers come to the rescue. Cold facts have a sobering effect on our decision-making process. Bringing factual information into options analysis will help to confirm if your gut feeling is telling the truth.

Know When To Stop Analysing

Analysis paralysis is a dreaded state of mind. It is important to recognise when enough is enough. We cannot predict the future with all of the implications of our decisions. Neither can we analyze and look for options ad nauseam as at some point a decision will have to be made. As a famous saying from president Roosevelt goes “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. This is where we need to override the compulsion to continue with the endless analysis of options and choose the most suitable option.

Worst-case Scenario

One way of getting out of analysis paralysis is to consider the worst-case scenario. It often provides gives a perspective of how significant the decision is and helps either choose one or come up with the next step. Imagine deciding between two options of cereal for breakfast in a supermarket aisle. What is the worst-case scenario of choosing the wrong box? A loss of a couple of bucks and a mediocre breakfast is likely to be the answer. Choosing between two jobs is a different case that may cost you time and money. In the latter scenario doing additional research about both companies and asking questions will provide missing data points required for a decision.

Not Making a Decision Is a Decision

Whenever you are not selecting one of the options a decision is made. It is usually either by you consciously withdrawing from the process or someone else taking the advantage of the situation. Using purchasing a property as an example if you are spending too long deciding to make an offer someone else will. In some cases, it may be the right decision if it’s done purposely for instance in uncertain market conditions. However, missing the decision deadline will result in someone else making a decision for you and they may not have your best interest. 

Be In The Right State Of Mind

Lack of sleep, tiredness, stress or distraction non-related to the situation issues will have an effect on the quality of your decisions. This article in Scientific American compares the brain to a muscle that fatigues and performs worse as we use the executive function that is responsible for making decisions. Structure your days so that important decisions are made in the morning. Check on your mental and physical state before going into important meetings that require you to make a choice leading to a big change. In some cases deferring this conversation to a better time may be the best decision in this case. 

Practice Makes Perfect

The more you do something the better you become at it. Making decisions on a regular basis using these principles will gradually improve your skill. There will be a few mistakes along the way and it is perfectly normal. When we learn to walk at first it is a funny display however after years of practice walking we rarely think about making steps consciously. On top of that experience and expertise will reduce anxiety when making decisions.

How do you know if you making the best decision?

Whenever our ability to make a choice is impacted by the lack of knowledge of the subject,  sufficient information or time we are likely to make a poor decision. The bound rationality model on the diagram below shows this visually. In these circumstances, our rational thinking is impacted and we select an option on what we know.

Using the example of cereal in the supermarket when deciding between 3 known brands and short on time we may opt for a cheaper or more colourful packaged option. Because of the lack of time or understanding of the nutritional value, we may walk away with a box of Honey Snacks. This product was called the worst cereal on as it is basically 60% sugar with a happy-looking frog on the package.

Hence the best decision is the one that is made with a full understanding of the options, and their consequences with enough time to complete the analysis. Clever salesmen create limited-time offers with overinflated benefits and technical jargon to hijack this process and sell you stuff you do not need.

What Are Some Mistakes We Make In Decision-making?

Mistakes will inevitably happen even with experienced knowledgeable people. Doing the opposite of the suggestions above will put you at risk of making a bad choice. Making big decisions quickly based on emotions and without understanding your options will leave you at the mercy of the situation.  However, spending too much time analyzing all of the available options and avoiding making a decision is equally bad. The situation will progress without your involvement but you may not have a choice at a later stage.

Many wrong decisions were made and backtracked without consulting the stakeholders involved. In worst-case scenarios, it bankrupted companies and affected people’s lives. On the opposite side involving others and consulting with irrelevant stakeholders without adequate knowledge may sway you towards a wrong solution. One way to think of bad decisions is that there are no mistakes only feedback and learning.  Making mistakes is how we learn our best lessons in life. As much as we want we can not predict the future or change our past. The best approach is to harvest the learning and move on to the next challenge.

Use these guidelines to adjust your current decision-making process and become a more confident decisive person. In my coaching, I use grow model to help with making big decisions easily. It uses a similar to the discussed earlier approach to identify the results you want, and available options and break down big goals into small actionable steps. If you would like more get in touch using the contact form.

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