Every day we are faced with decisions. Some are felt immediately, and others take longer to see results.
Regardless of their timeline, each should be viewed as equally important. After all, every decision has the potential to change the direction of your business, your career, and even your life.
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Decision-making is a skill. It must be learned, developed, and polished through time and experience. While there’s no perfect blueprint, putting yourself in the best position to understand the choice at hand will, ultimately, lead to more good decisions.
Here are six steps to put you on the path to making effective choices:
1. Take a breath
The bigger the decision, the more it can weigh on you. And the more stress builds, the more it can influence your decision-making process.
People under stress tend to pay more attention to the upside of a possible outcome, which can negatively alter their perception, according to a study by Mara Mather and Nichole R. Lighthall of the University of Southern California. Such stress can result in decision-making “that is hurried, unsystematic, and lacking full consideration of options,” they write.
Before making a decision, find an activity that relieves stress, such as exercising or volunteering, so you have a clear head to evaluate and exhaust all options — positive and negative.
2. Know the facts
The best decisions are made by those who are well informed. Evaluate what information is available, relevant, and reliable. Then ask yourself whether there is other pertinent information that may be needed.
You can write out the pros and cons of the decision, or use an online resource such as MindTools to do a quantitative analysis. By critically thinking through the facts, you’re giving yourself the best opportunity to make the right choice.
Just be sure not to overthink, which can cause paralysis by analysis. Instead, after you’ve collected all the information, go with what feels right rather than trying to function
3. Widen your options
Sometimes it can seem like your options are limited, but that’s typically not the case.
A study by Kathleen M. Eisenhardt at Stanford found that Silicon Valley firms that responded to changes the quickest — and with a strategy that addressed fluctuations in their industry — were the firms where top leaders considered multiple alternatives simultaneously.
If you consider only one option, she says the choice can often lead to indecision or two sides bickering.
For example, when evaluating an underperforming employee, the option might seem narrow: should you fire them or not? Instead, consider whether they could excel in another role or with another team. Or perhaps they might need some mentoring.
When you have multiple options, Eisenhardt concludes that you can approach each of their strengths and weaknesses more objectively. As a bonus, it also gives you fallback choices if your initial decision doesn’t pan out.
4. Get other opinions
Don’t feel like you have to make a decision by yourself. In fact, you probably shouldn’t.
Chip and Dan Heath, co-authors of “Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and Work,” found that bringing diverse groups of people together to solve complex problems can yield the best results. They highlighted a pilot program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford that brought together all of the doctors caring for a single patient. By encouraging the doctors to listen and learn from each other’s expertise, the quality of their care increased.
Similarly, the researchers discovered that cockpit crews that haven’t worked together have worse safety records than ones that have. And they also explained that some of the most successful construction firms brought architects, general contractors, and trade workers together to streamline communication rather than deal with issues separately.
5. Learn from the past
Whenever you’re trying to solve a problem, chances are you’re probably not the first to confront it.
Learn from the successes and failures of others, and evaluate how similar decisions you’ve dealt with panned out. Chip Heath suggests sourcing information from those outside your industry.
For instance, Heath says a principal trying to get students through the lunch line faster might typically consult other schools. Instead, he suggests the principal look at how restaurant owners or concessions at stadiums solved the idea.
“Very often we get locked into a fairly narrow set of people and ideas that we consult,” Heath says. “We consult people in our company on our floor, as opposed to consulting people in the broader industry or even consulting people in other industries that face similar problems.”
6. Look forward
Think rationally about the decision you’re about to make, and measure its short-term and long-term impacts.
Suzy Welch, a columnist and best-selling author, calls it the 10-10-10 rule. She says to ask yourself, “What are the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes? In 10 months? And in 10 years?” Welch surmises that “the answers usually tell me what I need to know not only to make the most reasoned move but to explain my choice to the family members, friends, or coworkers who will feel its impact.”
Learning how to make effective decisions is a skill that can constantly be improved. By understanding the complexities of each choice, you can make the best decisions possible and set yourself up for success.