What is the secret behind great decision-making? Why are some people great decision makers whereas others struggle in this area? Research studies give us many different reasons. But when you step back, it boils down to The Five habits of highly effective decision makers. If you develop these habits, you can also become an excellent decision maker.
The Decision-Making Process
Every decision maker goes through four stages of the decision-making process. The process is the same whether you want to choose a restaurant for dinner or respond to North Korea. These four steps are:
- First, you set up the decision paradigm. It involves setting up the goals and considerations you want to focus on.
- Second, you generate options to achieve your decision goals.
- Third, you evaluate the options and understand their pros and cons.
- Fourth, you pick one of the options that best suit your decision-making paradigm.
The five habits of effective decision makers help the decision maker go through these four stages in a superior manner.
Habit One: Leverage Others
When you observe successful senior managers, you will see a common trait. You will find that they usually seek opinions of others before making a decision. They are usually slow and deliberate in making their decisions. As a result, they use more data in decision-making.
Some of the best decision makers and managers I have comes across are masters in the art of seeking opinions of others. They behave like a sponge and ask for opinions of their colleagues and organizations. It helps them not only make better decisions but also make others feel included.
When you listen to others and appreciate their opinions, they feel heard and involved. This exercise is valuable in itself because it leads to better organizational alignment.
But beyond that alignment advantage, it also improves your decisions. Others can help you formulate the paradigm in which you are working. They can help you generate options. They can also provide more details on the pros and cons of each option on the table.
Mistakes People Make When Seeking Opinions of Others
At the same time, many people make a common mistake when seeking opinions of others. They conflate the process of seeking an opinion with the act of evaluating options. It makes the entire act of information gathering a frustrating experience for them as well as for the people from whom they seek an opinion.
Paul’s Purchase Decision
Consider an example to understand this mistake. Paul wants to buy a music system. He intends to get an audiophile quality system which would give him the most enjoyment. At the same time, his wife wants him to buy something that has no wires. So he has been considering traditional amplifiers and a Bluetooth speaker system.
He asks his friend Jeremy for advice. Jeremy is well versed in the world of music systems and offers him other options too. Jeremey opens his eyes to the world of network systems like Sonos as well as voice-activated speakers like Google Home. But Paul has already made a subconscious decision to buy a traditional amplifier system.
When Jeremy shares other options, Paul uses the information from Jeremey to evaluate his subconscious choice of a regular amp. Jeremey tells him about the advantage of a voice-activated system, but Paul contradicts him and says that the sound quality of such systems may not be great. When Jeremey talks about the ability to expand the speaker system, Paul opposes him with ‘but that is not critical.’
As the conversation goes on, both Paul and Jeremy become frustrated. Jeremey feels that his help is not only not needed but is also not appreciated. Paul may be frustrated as he is unable to get support for a traditional amplifier. Since Paul is unaware of his subconscious decision, he doesn’t understand the reason behind this frustrating exchange.
Although this is a fictional example, it represents many situations you may have come across. The example shows how not to seek information to make better decisions.
Habit Two: Decide Only When Ready to Make the Decision
Great decision makers are aware of the decision-making process and do not rush to complete the process or short-circuit it. They are committed to generating options and evaluating them before making a choice.
By becoming self-aware, they do not fall into this trap of making a sub-conscious choice and then seek validation. They often set up a deadline by which they will make the decision. As a result, such decision-makers go through information gathering process until they are ready to make a choice.
Habit Three: Know the Goal Behind Seeking an Opinion?
They know their goals when seeking information. They know whether they are seeking information to clarify the decision paradigm or generate options or evaluate options.
Since they know their goals, they use questions accordingly. If they are seeking paradigm clarification, they focus on the decision-making framework being used by others. As a result, they listen well and use incoming information more efficiently. They do not go deeper into pros and cons when seeking to generate alternatives. Similarly, when they are seeking details of each option and pros and cons associated with it, they use questions to drill deeper into these areas.
Habit Four: Listen to Information With an Open Mind
Since they are aware of their goals and focused on getting the relevant information, such decision makers keep an open mind. They receive incoming information without judging it prematurely. As they know it is not a time to make the choice yet, they feel no pressure from the incoming information. They don’t feel cognitive dissonance as they avoid making premature subconscious choices.
They are aware that incoming information is only raw material that will go into the final choice. As a result, they do not discard or overweight information early on.
Habit Five: Commit to Making the Final Choice Yourself.
Finally, effective decision makers make the final choice themselves. They do not let others decide for them. They know that the final decision is something that depends on their value system and their unique worldview.
By the time they are ready to make a choice, they are aware of what is important to them in that situation; their decision paradigm is clear. They know the various options on the table and the pros and cons of each option. They understand the risks and upsides of all the choices.
The benefit of taking full responsibility for their decision-making is that they not only stamp their unique mark on the decision event but also ensure that they will learn from that decision. By not blaming others for their decision, they become better at making decisions.
In hindsight, when things do not work out, or the subsequent events show their decision was sub-optimal, they tend to learn from their mistakes. Ineffective decision makers tend to blame others for their decisions and as a result, do not learn from their mistakes.
The Five Habits of Highly Effective Decision Makers
In short, you can become a much better decision maker when you
- Seek opinions and feedback from others
- Decide only when you are ready to make the decision
- Know your objectives for seeking opinions
- Listen to the feedback and information with an open mind
- Commit to making the final choice by yourself.
Which of these habits do you do well naturally and where can you improve?