Three Steps for Making Even Better Decisions on the Job

SylviaContributed by Dr. Sylvia Lafair, Award Winning Author and Workplace Relationship Expert

Making the right decision is always a combination of head, heart, and gut; whether it’s choosing from a sumptuous dinner menu, hiring a skilled project manager, or agreeing to purchase a new office building.

Deciding is an art and craft that includes research and data. However, while most decision making models and processes are organized around assessing and understanding the issues at hand, it is also critical to include the subtle psychological aspects that can make decision making seem irrational, even impossible.

The key to quality decisions is listening to yourself as you trudge through all the logical reasons and move from no to yes to maybe, to no again to “okay, it’s a go.”

Pay attention to the behavior pattern that best suits your personality. This is the clue; gaining insight into your personal arsenal of how you choose will expand creative options and help you make better choices in the future. Are you the “lone wolf” who resists asking for too much input that would muddy the final outcome, the “politician” who has to get consensus before you give the final word, the “impulse addict” who needs a fast and furious decision to avoid anxiety, or the “avoider” who stays in the background pushing others to be the final voice so you can never be blamed if things go wrong?

Figuring It OUT

To develop your decision making skills learn the OUT Technique. First, OBSERVE the primary pattern of how you decide to decide. Next, UNDERSTAND where that pattern developed. Finally be willing to TRANSFORM the pattern to its most positive and productive form.

1. OBSERVE: Each of us has a knee jerk manner of deciding. Pay attention to the way you seek out information and analyze data. Keep a check list to figure out your primary mode of asking for input. Do you prefer consensus or contentious? How you handle conflict is a key determiner for how you make decisions. Are you, as management guru Peter Drucker insists, able to do the right thing even if it is unpopular? Notice if you act quickly just to get “it” over with and done, or wring your hands, afraid you could be wrong. Here is a quick litmus test to help: notice your behavior when shopping for an outfit. Do you shop alone, with friends? When a sales person wants to be helpful are you grateful or is it grating? And now, for the best part; once you bring your new sartorial success home is it a done deal or are you a master of the return syndrome?

2. UNDERSTAND: We all, and that means all of us, learned decision making methods in our original organization, the family. This is where responses to decisions were applauded or the adults in our lives were appalled. Once you begin to understand the emotional underbelly of decisions you are in a better place to use a combination of logic and intuition; decisions are less gut wrenching and more satisfying. Look back at early choices, often this was in the area of friends; were they accepted or rejected? Note who judged and how you responded. Who was there to give you advice when you took a wrong turn and “messed up”? Were you able to be honest at home or did you “lie by omission”? What was the price to pay if you wanted something expensive, or frivolous?

Once you can look at the core decision making patterns you can choose to change the way you decide. You see, the patterns are hidden in the lower parts of the brain, the places where we learned mechanisms for survival. This lower part of the brain, the amygdala, is where responses of fight, flight, and freeze live. They are there all the time, to protect us and keep us safe. Except what worked when we were five or twelve certainly is not what is best most of the time now that we are adults.

Yet, this part, misnamed as the “unconscious” is only invisible until we tackle it. It is our responsibility to bring these hidden parts of our behavioral patterns into consciousness. Once we observe and understand that our decisions are founded on ingrained emotional behavior patterns we can test out new methods of choice making. Begin by checking out consequences of the past three months of decisions and connect the dots. Note where there was fear, need for approval, shame, blame, or fame. You will then have a compass to check your internal barometer for next choices.

Decision Making that Works for Your Team

Now you are ready to take on the team. Please remember, all organizations have remnants of our original organization, the family. Therefore, your direct reports also have to learn the OUT Technique. You can make this a part of a team building exercise and there are lots of questions in “Don’t Bring It to Work” that will help individuals observe, understand, and transform personal patterns.

Organizations, like families, have “psychological accounting” as a core way of making decisions; there are unsaid rules that dictate, like “don’t rock the boat.” There is a tendency to agree that the way it has always been done is the best, even when old policies have outlived their usefulness. Organizations often run on inertia, in families, it is called homeostasis; keeping things the same means staying alive. However, this can well mean stagnation and failure.

Knowing the underlying emotional aspects of decision making is crucial for making sound decisions. Language needs to be correctly framed to include emotional constructs as well as having the best quantitative data possible. Once team members are aware of their personal biases, can talk openly about their fears and concerns, and are helped with the anxiety producing aspects of making decisions, buy-in is generated. The blame/shame game is avoided and the whole team becomes accountable for the final choices.

This is team work and decisions making at its best.