We all make different decisions every single day either big or small. Most of the decisions made on a daily basis are relatively inconsequential or small and are made without us paying much attention to them. Whereas making some of the big decisions like career related choices or work/business related matters can be tough and can have a major impact on our personal and professional lives.
Why decision-making is important?
Your competency is often measured by the quality of decisions you make and the outcomes achieved in your life or work. Whether you manage a team at work place or manage an organistation, your success depends on you making right decisions and learning from wrong ones. No matter how big or small a decision is, it is important to have a clear intention for why you are choosing a specific course of action. Our lives are an accumulation of the decisions we make both big and small. Making the best decisions becomes important in many disciplines. But not everyone is well equipped with good decision-making capabilities especially when it comes to making tougher ones.
Difficulty in making decisions
Throughout our lives, we come across situations, where we need to make hard choices, especially when the decisions we need to make are life-altering, it gets much harder. In other words, making such decisions makes us uncomfortable as we tend to think what we choose will say something about what we are and what we value. Some of us get anxious when making these decisions by weighing the merits of each option back and forth in our mind thereby making us indecisive. Some of us are used to having a need to rationalise each possibility before deciding on the best course of action. When faced with too many options, we just cant make a choice. Difficulties in making decisions can lead to stress, anxiety and depression and if left unchecked, can distort your perception of the world of yourself.
The reasons behind such indecisiveness is largely due to doubt or regret or the element of uncertainty and is mostly rooted back to certain personality traits and cognitive biases. For example, people witch strong need to reach a conclusion in a given situation tend to engage in black-and-white thinking, while ambivalent tend ṭo be more comfortable with uncertainty. Sometimes, the internal biases hold you back from making decisions. We all have them and they can affect our “big picture” decisions for better or worse without we realising it and would often impact our decision-making capabilities. These biases can lead us to judge a situation too quickly. Here are some of the most common ones.
Change more often is not preferred, so if given a choice, many stick to what they know as they are comfortable with and are afraid to deviate from them. They make past choices as established custom and do not go by logic or rationality or relevance while making a decision. To overcome this, believe that change can be good and start with small changes and be open to doing things differently.
We all like being right. But sometimes we ignore information that challenges our beliefs. We don’t want ṭo seek the information that opposes our views thereby creating a bias in the decision taken. To balance out your prejudice, it is always better to consider the information even if that opposes your views.
We tend to feel more comfortable with those who have things in common with as we feel more understood and accepted. We begin to treat these people more favourably or become more aligned to such a group. In other words, we start judging a book by its cover. To break this bias, try to interact genuinely with individuals outside of your group. You might have more in common and can transcend surface-level differences.
When we place too much emphasis on certain piece of information, we tend to use that as a reference point to measure the remaining information creating the anchoring effect. In order not to let this happen, take time to evaluate by considering various aspects instead of rushing into a decision.
Being aware of your own biases will help you view your situation more objectively and to gain clarity around the decisions you make.
How to make effective decisions?
All of us have innate desire to be able to make better decisions and to protect ourselves from the wrong ones in order to create a bright future. But many factors; conscious and subconscious affect our choices and we need to know the ones that will help us improve our decision-making. Here are some ways to improve your decision-making.
Identify the triggers for indecisiveness
If you have difficulty making decisions – there is a chance that you are afraid of something. Figure out the reasons behind those fears to recognise triggers that cloud your mind. Is it a fear of failure? Or fear of missing out? Or is it because of your insecurities? By knowing the reason behind your discomfort, you can figure out how much sense it makes and whether it leads you to making the right decision. It would be a positive mental shift in seeing options as ‘ good’ and ‘bad’, to just choice A and choice B. Train yourself to think pros and cons with out being emotionally affected. Be aware of your triggers and practice challenging your previous choice patterns.
Squash all the biases
With biases we become prejudiced and make decisions without proper clarity. Simple errors lead to poor decisions due to our emotional ambiguous state. It is important to spot these errors and omit them to make better choices. You need to consider the likelihood of all particular outcomes. Instead of taking into account every possible outcome, look at the ones that are most likely to happen. You need to guard yourself against biases to think clearly when making decision.
Gather right information
Assuming that you know everything about a choice that needs to be made may not lead you to right decision. You can only make a decision based on the best information you have at the time. That is why it is important to gather right facts as many as relating to what you are contemplating on. Question your assumptions instead of jumping straight into something without properly considering the facts. All big choices have consequences and could result in more failures and regrets. If you rely on your assumptions, you run the risk of accepting a bias. The more you explore the background information, the more reliable your decision will be.
Consider what is at stake
Do not allow others’ agenda to sway you from making the choice thats right for you. You should be making difficult decisions with yourself in mind. Ask yourself:”will I like myself after making this choice.” Anyone can tick all the boxes in terms of a solution, without taking into account how that decision may make them feel about themselves. Consider how you’ll feel about yourself when you’ve made that choice. If you choose the easier, unassertive option, you risk a drop in self-esteem. Trust yourself enough to believe your decision is well informed and good.
Once you made a decision, it is easy to find evidence to support it. confirmation bias will ensure you find more and more reasons why you are right. So Instead of trying to prove your potential decision is right, prove it wrong. Look for reasons to doubt it, of you can’t find any then you can have confidence that decision you are making is a good one. Test your decision against multiple scenarios and if it still looks the best choice from different perspectives, go with it.
Don’t prejudice outcomes. There are always more variables to consider. The more alternatives you consider, the more likely you are to arrive at a better decision. But with too many, you may find it too hard to make your decision. Keep them limited. Step back and identify alternatives to seek others’ view points. Listen to arguments and probe for understanding. There may be valid perspectives you hadn’t considered, which could pave way for right course of action. Looking for alternatives creates different points of view, new insights and new choices.
Sometimes people mull over too many dimensions and are unable to choose a course of action. There’s this or that person to consider, the consequences that might arise, and sometimes it might be the fear of making mistakes, or fear of what others might think and so on. The flip side of over analysing is that we fail to identify what is outside our control. Take decisions based on what feels right, with proper assessment of the best available information instead of overanalysing.
Finally, Trust your instincts in making your decisions based on right principles and establish clear objectives that identify with your desired outcome or that which provides solutions to your problems. Decide on the lines of whether to if your decision is efficient and effective.
Next time around while making a decision that is crucial to you follow these steps to make better decisions. Once you’ve made your decision, act on it. Make your decision measurable and achievable.
Problems exist everywhere and may arise in all facets of our lives. They are natural part of any work related or business related process. These problems block our progress if not addressed or solved. When we fail to solve these problems, we often learn to work around them or simply learn to live with them. But they can be solved and focusing on finding solutions to problems that arise empowers us and will benefit our personal and professional lives.
It may not be clear what the problem is unless it comes to light. Understanding the problem is important in order to know whether to spend the time or money to find a solution. As a problem solver, you need to understand how the system meant to work and the fundamentals that affect the problem so you can follow a systematic approach. You can find solutions to almost any kind of problem in a methodical and disciplined way.
Here are some do’s and don’ts when diving into problem-solving.
Understand the problem
When we face a problem, we tend to come up with many ideas of what might be wrong and how to fix it and quickly get to work without proper understanding. Anytime you come up with a potential cause that you are not certain of ‘you are guessing’. Guessing is naturally reinforced throughout our lives and we like it because it is quick and works for some of easy problems.
Guessing has number of drawbacks as itrobs you of your time and resources to test every guess. With a long list of your guesses, you will end up wasting both and worse sometimes you may miss out the root cause on your list. You might cause new problems as you really don’t understand the root cause.
Next time around, when these guesses are going to bounce around and distract you, do not suppress, write down your guesses, recognise them for what they are and get them out of your system. Take time to analyse and understand the problem before you rush in to solve it.
“If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it.” – Naoto Kan
Do not Hide Behind Ignorance
We are often afraid to admit what we don’t know, because it is comforting to imagine that we already have a good idea of the solution to our problem and can take action. The fear of looking ‘ignorant’ or of being ‘exposed’ by asking questions one is “ supposed to know” causes many to hide behind their ignorance. You fail to solve the problem by pretending to know something you don’t under false understanding.
When you are in a problem solving situation, you must focus on learning what you do not yet know. You need not present yourself as all-knowing. Embrace your ignorance and challenge what ‘everyone knows’ by asking questions to make sure you have facts. These questions shatter assumptions and provoke new insight and gets you closer to the problem-solving.
Define the Problem
Get your problem definition right. The way you define your problem influences the solution. Not knowing the problem you are solving might lead to wasting your time and resources to fix something that was never the problem in the first place, whereas defining lets you have a measurable observation and you can remove guessing and emotional attachment to the problem.
Don’t get trapped into solving the wrong problem by defining with prejudice or assumption. Make sure to define your problem as something that is fully within your scope and precisely describing what you observe.
“A problem clearly stated is a problem half solved.” – Dorothea Brande
Don’t wander aimlessly, Generate Possible Solutions
Sometimes, we aimlessly wander around looking at too many things and reams of data. Instead try to ask specific questions about the behaviour of the problem and generate as many solutions possible.
Understand what is going on behind your problem and what controls your problem. Here are some questions to ask:
1. What does the problem look like?
2. Is it the same every time?
3. When did you first see this?
4. What pattern do you notice?
5. What is its cause?
Be detailed and thorough to know how the problem manifests and use the answers as guides. You can develop a pattern of failure to understand where the problem does and doesn’t happen. Try to find specific information and generate possible solutions. Consider about the positive and negative consequences and what you want the solution to do or not to do.
“You can increase your problem-solving skills by honing your question-asking ability.” – Michael J. Gelb
Arrive at simple solutions
Many of us are used to a pattern of poor problem solving that we have come to believe that complex problems have complex solutions. The complex solutions tend to be often expensive and end up fixing the symptoms instead of the actual problem. Break your assumption and believe in simple solution to complex problems.
Once you understood the root cause,
evaluate them for their effectiveness by considering the following:
1. Does the solution solve the real problem?
2. What are the consequences of implementing the solution?
3. Would this solution help you solve the problem permanently?
This way, you can eliminate many of the variables that aren’t working and can arrive with best and simple possible solution.
Simple solution will always give you the most effective outcome and you will be able to approach the problem correctly rather than work around it.
Don’t make opinion-based decisions
If a particular problem that is ‘known to all’ is being solved, a common method is to use “wisdom of the group.” In solving such problems, do not use your assumptions about facts or the assumptions of others to make decisions, rather verify the facts yourself. Opinion-based decisions prevent progress and you might end up in a wrong direction and won’t solve the problem.
When solving your own complex problems, recognise your opinions for what they are and set them aside.
Use facts to determine which solution is most objectively valuable and has more impact. Be persistent in getting the right facts and make fact-based decisions.
“Your ability to solve problems and make good decisions is the true measure of your skill as a leader.” – Brian Tracy
Finally, Focus your efforts to stay on the solution-finding path and avoid distractions. Don’t get bogged down by expanding the scope of your problem endlessly. Instead break up your problem to eliminate the variables that are not contributing and dig into those you can’t eliminate. This keeps you on the path to the root cause.
Next time you are faced with a problem or an issue, try to structure your efforts systematically and focus on an organised approach to get to the possible solution.