Developing Decision-Making Skills

Decisions are part of life. Each day you make countless decisions, or choices. Each decision you make has a unique set of characteristics. As you make decisions, you will find that following a step-by-step process will result in easier decisions and better results. In addition, you will want to take a positive approach to decision-making and avoid negative approaches.

Characteristics of Decisions

Each decision is unique. This increases the challenge of making wise decisions. Decisions can have a variety of characteristics including following:

Some decisions are simple, others are complex. Simple, routine decisions such as what to eat, what to wear or what to do are often given little thought. The consequences, or results, of these decisions usually have no long-term effect on your life. More complex decisions deserve careful consideration. Important decisions have greater consequences on your life and the lives of others. Some decisions impact your entire life. For example, the decisions you make about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs will have a major impact on your life, on the lives of your family and friends, and on what you are able to do. Your education and career choices will affect your self-esteem, your earnings, and your lifestyle. Relationship and lifestyle choices are other high-impact decisions. What decisions do you make with little thought? Which of your decisions may have a major impact on your life?

Some decisions are independent, others interrelated. Many decisions stand alone having little, if any, affect on other decisions you make. Interrelated decisions create a chain reaction. If you wait until near the due date to start a major report, you may do a sloppy job on the report, receive a poor grade in the class, and fail to graduate on time. A chain reaction can cause even small decisions to have big effects on both you and others. Make thinking about the consequences of your decisions ahead of time a priority. Which of your decisions stand alone? Which of your decisions are interdependent?

You will make some decisions alone, some with others. Making decisions in a group is similar to making decisions alone. However,when making group decisions, most or all members must agree upon the decision. In a decisions that requires compromise, each person gives up something to reach a satisfactory solution. Deadlocks can occur when people can’t agree on a solution. In these situations, a mediator, someone who is not directly involved in the conflict, can help people involved look at the problem and work out a solution. What other challenges have you observed when making group decisions?

Decisions may affect only the decision maker or others as well. While many decisions are personal ones that affect no one but you, some decisions have a direct effect on others. Try to avoid making decisions without regard for the consequences to yourself and others. Try to consider all the possible consequences to you and others as you make decisions. What are some decisions that affect both you and others? What decisions have you later regretted because you failed to consider all the possible consequences?

Decision-Making Steps

Being aware of the factors that influence your choices will make it easier to make decisions that are right for you.  In addition, you will need to follow a sound process for making decisions. If you are making a major decision, you may find it helpful to write your ideas as you work through each step of the process. Following these steps will help you make sound decisions:

Step 1: Identify the Decision to Be Made. Clearly state the situation or problem that requires a decision. Thinking about your goal or desired outcome can help you make a more effective decision. If the decision is minor, you complete the decision-making process quickly. A major decision may take longer. For example, your goal might be to buy a computer to take to college. You need to decide what type of computer and which features will meet your needs, wants, and budget. Writing a clear statement describing the decision will help you focus your thoughts.

Step 2: Analyze Your Resources. When you must make an important decision, consider every available resource. What resources do you need and what do you have available to solve the problem or to reach your goal? Which resources are plentiful and which are scarce? Do you have the time and energy needed? If you need money, how much can you spend? What more information do you need and where can you get it? Do you have the skills required?

Step 3: List the Alternatives. There are usually several possible ways to reach a goal or solve a problem. Make a list of the possible alternatives, or options. The more alternatives you can find, the more likely you are to find one that works. Think creatively and keep an open mind during this step.

Step 4: Examine the Alternatives. Avoid jumping to a premature conclusion before thoroughly considering the possibilities. List the advantages and disadvantages of each option. This step can take much time, research, and careful thought, depending on the importance and complexity of the decision. If needed, get more information from family, friends, teachers, co-workers, and others. The Internet, social media, books, magazines, and newspapers can also be helpful. An informed decision is more likely a good decision than a quick one, especially if the stakes are high. Test each option by imagining how this choice might work out. What might be the short-term and long-term consequences? If a friend or family member were facing this decision, what would you advice would you give?

Step 5: Choose the Best Alternative. Consider information you gathered for each option as well as the potential consequences. Think about your resources, values, goals, needs, and wants. Your decision should show the importance you assign to each. Also, consider the possible impact of your emotions. When evaluating solutions, you will find it helpful to ask trusted others to share their viewpoints and experiences. Finally, make the choice that you believe is best for you and for others it may affect.

Step 6: Act on Your Decision. Make a plan of action for carrying out your decision. If the decision involves others, carrying out the decision should involve communication and joint planning. Don’t stop short of taking action; have enough confidence in your decision to act. Following through is a sign of your commitment and determination.

Step 7: Evaluate Your Decision. Perhaps the most important step in decision-making, and the one most often ignored, is evaluating the outcome. Judge your decision by its quality and by how well it worked out. No one makes the right decision every time; sometimes you have to live with the consequences of a wrong decision. If the outcome is not what you expected or wanted, revise or make a new decision. By analyzing your decision and determining what went wrong, you can also avoid making the same errors in the future. The smart person learns from mistakes.

Approaches to Decision Making

People use both negative and positive approaches to decision-making. Most people regret a decision at one time or another. Often, the cause of their regret is failure to use good decision-making skills. An ineffective approach can result in negative consequences. If you use a responsible approach to decision-making, the outcomes will make you happier. Do any of these negative approaches sound familiar?

  • Passing the buck. Sometimes, people pass decisions on to another person.  Consider whether your reason resulted from lack of self-confidence, fear of consequences, lack of experience, or failure to take responsibility. If you do not have the knowledge or experience needed to make a wise choice, try talking it through with someone you trust or share a decision or let someone else decide. However, if pass responsibility to someone else, is the decision right for you and are you willing to accept consequences? 
  • Following the crowd. Some people find it easier to make the right decisions when they are alone than when they are with a group. It’s easy to assume that because others do something, it is okay, especially to those who are insecure in making their own decisions. The fact that everybody else is doing something is not a valid reason to go along with the crowd. If negative consequences result, are you willing to pay the price? If you find that you do not always make sound decisions when you are with your friends, prepare beforehand to do the right thing by making your own decision. Doing so takes courage, conviction, practice, and confidence, but you will be happier with the results. Even if the crowd is not thinking clearly, you can because you made informed choices that show your values and your understanding of potential consequences. Your best option is to think for yourself.
  • Acting on impulse. Sometimes people act on a sudden urge or impulse. Decisions made without thought and planning are called Impulse decisions. They occur in response to a sudden, appealing temptation. The temptation might be skipping class, indulging in a decadent dessert, drag racing or shoplifting. Because little thought goes into impulse decisions, they often lead to disappointing, even dangerous, consequences.
  • Avoiding decisions. Faced with choices, some people simply do nothing. They may not realize that they have a choice or they may hesitate to stand up for their beliefs. They cannot accept the consequences of a decision or fear how others may react. Failing to decide results in a decision by default. It allows other people or circumstances to control your life and future. A no-decision approach is a poor way to handle choices.
  • Accepting responsibility, including credit for good decisions and blame for bad ones, is a sign of responsible decision-making. Making responsible decisions is not always easy. However, making the most of your resources, recognizing influencing factors, and utilizing decision-making skills lead to better decisions, more positive consequences, and respect from others.
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