How do you make great decisions when faced with so many choices? In today’s fast-paced world, we are bombarded by information overload. The internet makes it so easy to find out just about anything. At the same time, we need to recognize that anyone can add information to the internet through social media, blogs, websites, etc. The fact that all opinions and ideas can be represented in a central place is one of the things that makes the internet a beautiful tool. It also makes it frightening and overwhelming.
With so many sources of information and diverse perspectives represented, how do you sort through it all? It is critically important that you check to see where the information is coming from. Who originally put it out there? Is it a reputable person? Do they have any facts to support what they are saying? Is the source of those facts reputable?
Yes, it takes time to sort fact from fiction. But when you use this information in a way that affects others, you want to be sure you are making sound decisions. Arm yourself with as much information as possible so you can make the most informed choice. This is a critical step, as all the other steps in the decision-making process are founded on your information-gathering. So what are the steps for making decisions and where does sorting fact from fiction fit in?
Decision Making Steps
Identify what decision needs to be made.
This sounds like a given but its not. Too often we rush to quick fixes without actually understanding what the problem is. You need to have a concrete and specific issue or problem that you are making a decision about. Sometimes this takes a little thought or even digging down to get to the heart of the issue to determine what actually needs to be solved. Make sure you are addressing the root cause and not just simply addressing a surface symptom.
Gather relevant information.
Be careful on this step. Remember, both the internet and gossipy coworkers can be either friend or foe. Make sure the information you gather is factual and can be verified by trusted sources. Look to see where the information has originated from and determine if that is a credible source. Make sure others – who are deemed credible – have confirmed that the information is correct and accurate.
Identify potential solutions.
Don’t just act on the first idea that comes to mind. Brainstorm as many ideas you can. Then weigh the results and possible consequences of each option. Too many times we skip this part and only think about if the solution will address the problem without considering other problems or benefits might result from the solution. One of my favorite resources for this process is mind mapping as it provides a visual representation of the solutions and their impacts.
“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” —John C. Maxwell
Select a course of action.
Yea! This is the step most of us rush to, but now you’ve arrive here armed with valid information and sound reasoning to back up and explain your decision.
Implement a solution.
Sometimes we forget that it doesn’t matter what decision we make if we don’t act upon it. This is another step not to be rushed. Implementation is most likely to be successful when it is accomplished through a well-thought-out plan. Planning makes sure that steps aren’t missed and that all the resources are in place for the solution to be effective. Taking your solution from idea to reality requires action.
Reflect on your decision.
Many people skip this step all together. By looking back at the problem, the process we used to make a decision, and the results of that decision, we can learn from ourselves. Was the problem solved? Were the outcomes and impacts as we expected? Were there other results we didn’t expect? Through reflect we can determine where we might have gone wrong or strengthen our self-confidence in our decision-making skills and resolve.
The information you gather directly impacts your potential solutions, which dictates your actions. While you don’t want to get stuck in the information-gathering phase, it is a step that needs careful consideration. The more important the decision, the more time should be spent gathering information and verifying its accuracy.
Along with gathering needed information, you should also listen to your instincts. Pay attention to how your gut feels as you consider your potential course of action. Are there options that cause your body to tense up or to relax? This can be a sign that your gut is trying to lead you away from or toward, respectively, a certain direction. Pay attention to this inner guide and consider how the option supports or conflicts with your values and the information you gathered. The more alignment you find, the more confident you will be in your final decision.
Putting It All Together
Sometimes it is easy to go through life with blinders on, focusing on one thing or only one way of doing something. And there are times and situations in which working with your head down is absolutely the correct approach. But if you fail to consider other options, you might be missing out on exciting new opportunities. It is easy to forget that there can be many ways to doing things, and you need to be willing to open yourself to exploring the options.
It takes courage to try new things, to risk failure, and to open yourself to new experiences. Being a leader, a decision maker, a change maker, or an innovator takes courage. Courage to ask questions about the status quo. Are you willing to try and fail and continue trying to bridge the process and the goal? Do you have the confidence to expose weakness? Can you exploit strengths? Are you committed to completing the journey?
How often do you take the time to check your facts when making a decision? Do you rely on information and evidence or your gut or both? Can you even identify how you go about making a decision? I challenge you to think about your preferred method of decision-making. I challenge you to reflect upon the decisions you have made in the past and how they have turned out for you. If the majority of your decisions have not ended in positive results, it may be time to give your decision-making process a tune up.
Revised January 2022. Originally published under The OD Pro in October 2019.