How to make good decisions: Five ways to improve your decision-making skills

How to make good decisions: Five ways to improve your decision-making skills

Your work life and your personal life are filled with decisions. In fact, it’s probably the activity we undertake the most, if you consider that we make decisions constantly throughout any given day. I’m going to share some decision-making skills that will help you become an effective decision-maker. 

There are many reasons this is important. 

If you work inside an organization and you make good decisions at work, your managers will take notice and start thinking about promoting you. 

If you own your own business, your business will grow faster, and those who work for you will enjoy it. 

If you learn how to make good decisions in life, you will have very few regrets. Why is it so important to reduce regrets? Because a regret is something that sticks with you the rest of your life; it is something you can’t change, but wish you could. 

A regret is also something that could have turned out well if you had handled it properly. Usually it is a faulty decision-making process that leads to regrets. 

Good decisions lead to good outcomes; bad decisions lead to bad outcomes. 

Here are five decision-making strategies that will, if you put them into practice, turn you into a successful decision-maker.

#1 Carefully consider the options.

The guaranteed way to make a bad decision is to rush into it. When we do that, the impulse/emotional part of our brain, the one that urges us to eat that big dish of ice cream or another bag of chips, will say, “Oh, what the hell,” and we will do something that we are sure to regret. 

If it is a big decision, involving a number of factors, the best thing to do is to make two columns: “pro” and “con.” If you want to get really fancy, when you put items in each column, give each one a ranking from 1 to 10. The most important ones get a 10. 

After you have made your list, do something else for a few minutes, and then come back to it. Add up the numbers in each column. 

There’s your answer. Do the logical thing. 

If it is a small decision, take a moment to do the pros/cons in your head, then decide. 

#2 Don’t be afraid to make decisions. 

Some people hate to make decisions because they are so afraid of the outcome being negative. So they keep gathering information and weighing their tradeoffs. 

But life doesn’t wait; as a general rule, problems get worse over time. If you are one of those folks, and others are depending on you to make a decision (which is all of us, really), I can bet that you are driving them crazy. 

People working for a manager like this get pretty stressed out. They can’t move forward until the boss makes the decision. So they wait, and fret, and try to work their way around the decision not being made, which leads to more bad decisions. They spend time talking to others, lamenting, and trying to figure out what to do instead. Progress grinds to a halt. It’s a complete waste of time, energy, and morale.

They would all be much happier if they knew what to do. Progress would be made.

As long as you ask enough questions to see the big picture, and you are guided by some basic principles, you can make decisions a lot faster than you think. And, if you make the wrong decision, you can stop, admit your mistake and apologize, change course, and make a new decision. That way, everything keeps moving in the right direction. 

I should note that if you are working for a jerk, you will always worry about making the right decision, because you can’t please a jerk, no matter what you do. The very definition of a jerk is that they make life harder for others. 

In that case, my best recommendation is to keep looking for another job. Find a boss who makes it easier, not harder, for you to do your job, in part because he or she makes good decisions. 

#3 Let your conscience be your guide. 

We are living in a world where not much is said about your conscience. But it is the most reliable, life-saving tool at your disposal. Your conscience is that small voice that says things like, “If you do eat that ice cream, you won’t be able to lose weight.” “That’s not a very nice thing to say. Are you sure you should say it?” “Wouldn’t it be better to get that task done first, before you watch the next episode of that riveting series?” 

Your conscience is also fully aligned with some basic principles, starting with the golden rule: “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” Another way of looking at this is the adage that you are truly an ethical person when you do the ethical thing even when no one else is watching. 

At the time of a decision, the ethical thing might seem painful, embarrassing, inconvenient, or just too much work. But if you really do want to live a regret-free life, it’s the only way to go. In the long run, I have never regretted making a decision for positive ethical reasons. It always turned out for the best, sometimes in surprising ways. 

#4 When all else fails, flip a coin the Philip way. 

Let’s say that you are still not settled, even after you have carefully done #1. 

Time to use my husband’s coin-flipping method. Get a coin (if you can find one these days!). Call it, then flip it. The second you lift your hand and see the result, note your emotional response. 

If you are pleased with the outcome, then this is probably what you think is best. If you are disappointed, then you have reservations—and you need to figure out what they are. 

#5 Conduct fair and efficient group decisions. 

Quite often, when you make a decision, you’re not making it on your own. Others are involved, and everything will work better if they participate in the decision-making process and are satisfied with the final decision. If you are the leader of the group, there are three things you need to do:

  • Go into the discussion without an agenda. Yes, you might already think you know what the right decision is, but you might also get more information or a new perspective on the subject from others during the discussion. Keep your mind open, in case there is a better way.
  • Lay out the options, making sure you represent everything clearly, honestly, and without bias. Help everyone see what the tradeoffs are.
  • Listen to all views, but don’t let one person dominate. Sometimes there is someone in the group who does have a strong agenda, and keeps repeating their point of view, to the detriment of others. After a while, everyone else will just give up and go silent. Don’t let the agenda-driven person dominate. Hear out their point of view, but then say, “OK, we know how you feel now. You’ve made that very clear. Let’s see what everyone else has to say.” 
  • Keep the process efficient. Make note of the suggestions and weigh them together as a group. Continue the process of evaluating the tradeoffs. Use the “pro/con column” method described in #1, using a shared screen, so that everyone can see that the process is fair. 
  • Make the decision, getting acceptance from the group, then lay out next steps. If someone is still unsatisfied, take them aside later and talk it through privately. Once the decision is made, though, it is time to take action. Agree on the next steps and make sure everyone knows what they need to do. 

Decisions matter. Put the right amount of effort into making them; it pays.


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