How to become a better decision-maker

In a single day you’ll make around 35,000 decisions

Some will have little bearing on your day (such as which sandwich filling you choose) while some will determine how the rest of your week goes (perhaps answering that email from your boss straight away rather than delaying it until after lunch).

You might be happy with your choice of sandwich but you might regret the decision to leave the email reply until after lunch when you get called into the boss’s office with a bloated stomach, facing the new employment tribunal meeting announced for that week. So, how can you consciously start to make better decisions?

Avoid falling into common decision-making traps! Research has shown that there are three common traps, known as biases, which are often stumbled into when making decisions.

Firstly, there is outcome bias

This occurs when the decision is judged on the outcome of the problem, rather than by focusing on the actual process undertaken to reach that decision. This usually happens when you find yourself in a situation as the result of a negative decision. You should try to understand the process of making the decision, and what controls you have, in order to reach a more positive outcome. Focus on how you are making the choice, rather on than the end result.

Secondly, there is narrow framing

This occurs when you only see part of the problem. You base your decision only on what you know, such as personal experience, beliefs and professional training. To help you make a better decision, you need to be able to see the problem from several different perspectives. This often means working in collaboration with other people, to get a broader understanding of the issue so that you can better focus your decision.

When making decisions, take care not to find yourself in the comfort zone, where a similar situation you’ve encountered before leads you to make a similar decision because you base the hoped-for outcome on that of the previous issue.

Finally, when making a decision, make sure that you know all your objectives

Often, when making a decision, only half of the objectives are taken into account that are later revealed to have been relevant. Throughout the decision-making process try to determine how your ideal solution would look to identify the key solutions. Conversely, you should consider how a poor solution would look in order to avoid or minimise the negative areas of the problem.

So, whether it is sandwich choice or when to reply to your emails, working through the processes and evaluating decisions should be given plenty of time and thought. Basing your decisions on past experiences may not always be the best way forward.

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