Life Maven

Upgrade Your Decision Making Ability

When it comes to succeeding in life, there are a few universal skills. One of these is decision making.

Imagine being a manager that can’t make a decision.

Imagine reporting to a manager that can’t make a decision.

Whether it’s deciding whether to accept the job offer or figuring out which supplier to go with, our careers are made up of the choices we make.

Has anyone ever actually talked to you about how to make choices?

Have you ever considered specific strategies to use in conscious decision making?

If someone asked you why you had chosen one option over another, could you explain it?

As often seems to be the way, clear decision making is another essential career skill that’s left more to chance.

When it comes to decision making the spectrum of strategies ranges from logical to intuitive. In reality, you use a blend of rationale and gut feel with every choice but for the sake of clarity, let’s explore each independently.

Thinking Your Way to a Decision

Logic. Rationale. Data driven. One side of the decision making coin is really engaging your brain.

This is all about methodically working through the decision in a step by step manner.

I have two ways of approaching really thought led decisions – setting criteria and disproving hypthoses. Both you panic that they sound super technical and scientific, let me talk you through each strategy.

First up, for decisions where you debating between multiple options, like anytime you buy anything, it pays to develop some criteria.

The challenge you run into is writing an absolute laundry list of desirables and making it next to impossible to find an option that ticks all of the boxes. The way you work through this is to write that full list, dream big, get it all on there THEN ask yourself, ‘if I got everything else on my list could I let this criteria go? If you answer yes, then it goes in the nice to have category. However, if you just cannot imagine, under any circumstances making do without it, that criteria is 100% a must have. Surprisingly, this simple exercise will whittle your list of requirements down to three or four items.

From there, it’s a simple matter of evaluating each possible option against your list of criteria.

If you’ve got more a yes or no dilemma to work through, then the approach to take is proving or disproving a hypothesis. Again this sounds much more scary than it actually is.

In science, a hypothesis is a statement or theory of how you THINK the world might work. You then search for evidence, data that either supports or contradicts your theory. Either proves or disproves your hypothesis.

When it comes to decision making, the way this works is to consider what would need to be true for this to be a yes, what would need to be true for this to be a no? And if we’re being fully rationale, thought-led in our decision making, we will search for data, evidence, facts to provide the answers to these questions.

When I worked as a business consultant and I was looking a why a process wasn’t performing how it should I would consider all of the possible causes of the underperformance. From that list, I would pick the one that seems most likely, most probable, most logical and I would test whether it was true or not. That way I’m only looking at one variable at a time which is less confusing.

Over time, as you gain experience, you develop a gut feel that guides this process. Instead of needing data to determine which cause is most likely, you have a fair idea because you’ve seen something similar before. So let’s have a look at intuitive decision making.

Making Choices based in Feeling

It feels like our intuitive wisdom has been discredited as a valid way of making decisions. Especially in a work or business context where data is seen as king.

Which is sad. It disconnects us, especially as women, from our instincts and valuable source of information. Just because it can’t necessarily be explained doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. It’s maybe a harder sell to others. At least at the moment.

Anyway, we override our gut reaction with logic and rationale. So we need to take some time to tune back in. To reconnect with our intuitive side.

Thankfully its not much more complicated than creating some space, a little time to listen to yourself.

Take a few deep belly breathes, contemplate each option and notice how your body responses. Does it feel expansive, shoulders down, belly relaxed? Or does it feels constructive, tense, tightening? You can literally feel your intuition in your body.

Yes the answer doesn’t always make logical sense so trusting that sensation can be hard. Over time though you learn that it never misguides you. You notice that the times you override your intuition, things maybe didn’t turn out how you hoped. That’s ok, it’s all part of the process of learning to trust your intuition.

How The Logical and The Intuitive Combine

I just bought a car and the decision making process I went through is the ultimate illustration of using both logical and intuitive strategies.

Early on I got clear about what I want looking for, less than ten years old, under 100,000kms, fuel efficiency, safety rating. Pretty standard stuff.

What I was really thinking about though, is what features would mean that I’d happily drive this car for at least five years? Could I live without a reversing camera? Yes. Bluetooth? Not so much.

What was really interesting is that having Bluetooth as a must have, really limited my options within my budget. And it meant I have to drop getting a European car. As I said above, if you get everything else on your wishlist, can you let that criteria go? I was willing to forego getting a European car in order to be able to get my absolute must have feature.

So far, so logical.

As I started to test drive, the intuitive, the feel of driving the car started to come into play. How do I feel when I drive this car? Does it feel natural to steer and accelerate and brake or am I having to consciously adjust my driving to suit the car?

All of this lead to finding a car I liked the feel of and ticked all of my predetermined boxes. The final decision, was all intuitive. Does this feel like the right car for me? It does!

The intuitive and the logical both have a role to play in our decision making. In the work place, the intuitive side isn’t encouraged. As much as I said that it’s unusal to be taught decision making skills at all, it’s most something you learn by osmosis through what you observe, if you are taught anything, it’s likely to be rationale decision making.

Don’t let this fool you into thinking that the logical, data driven decisions are above the intuitive decisions. Being able to explain yourself doesn’t make it a better decision in anyway, it simply makes it more explanable.

Remember to cultivate both.

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