6 tips to improve your decision-making skills

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Two signposts saying "choice" pointing opposite ways

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What did you have for lunch today? Why did you choose that? The chances are, you acted on a hunch more than anything else.

In your work life, making a decision is more than just a random choice. In this article, we explore what decision-making means in the workplace, why employers love decision-making skills, and how to improve decision-making.

‘Ask yourself these 6 questions to improve your decision-making skills’

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What is decision-making?

A decision is a choice between alternatives - which

requires careful thought

Decision-making is about choosing between alternatives. But while a lot of the decisions we make are minor and spur-of-the-moment – like whether to have ready salted or cheese and onion crisps for lunch – workplace decisions can have serious consequences, sometimes involving large sums or money or even people’s jobs. That means your decision needs to be more than just a random choice.

Good decision-making skills are rare, particularly among less experienced people, which makes them popular with employers. Decision-making also encompasses other skills, such as problem-solving, the ability to plan ahead and organise, and initiative.

Even if you don’t get asked about this particular skill in your job application or interview, making good decisions means you will be more productive and valuable to your employer, helping you get ahead in your career. They can also help you when it comes to the big decisions in your personal life.

Here are some questions you can ask which can help improve your decision-making skills:

1. What is your aim?

How can you make a good decision if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve? You can’t – yet we quite often plump for a course of action without really understanding why we have done it. The key to making good decisions is understanding your end goal.

Think about your GCSE subject choices. Did you just choose the subjects your friends had picked? Or maybe you considered where those choices could take you in your career or academic life (hopefully you did). If you don’t take a step back and consider your ultimate goal, your decisions can often be random or impulsive, which can leave you with regrets in the long run.

2. What information do you need?

Making good decisions is impossible without the right information. For example, to choose the right universities for your UCAS application, you need some basic information: their performance in the subject you want to study, what their grade requirements are, the number of contact hours, the quality of resources and equipment, their distance from home, and so on.

The ability to filter down to the relevant details is also important to decision-making. Too much information, and you won’t be able to see the wood for the trees. It’s better to decide your criteria beforehand by thinking about what’s important to you for this particular decision.

3. What are the pros and cons?

It’s important to take a reasonable approach to decision-making. Weighing up the pros and cons will enable you to see whether the up sides outweigh the down sides. At work, manager sometimes like to call this a cost/benefit analysis.

At a simple level, this might just mean writing a list of the bad aspects and a list of the good aspects of a particular course of action. To go back to our university example, your list of pros and cons might look like this:

University of Westeros

 

Pros

Cons

1 hour from home

1st-year accommodation

Lab is well-equipped with modern equipment

5 hours of weekly contact time

Graduate employability is high

Student satisfaction is high

Have to move off campus in 2nd year

A long way from the city centre

Wight Walkers

University of Middle Earth

 

Pros

Cons

Accommodation on campus for duration of course

Near the train station

Student satisfaction is high

3 hours  from home

Lab equipment

3 hour of weekly contact time

Graduate employability is relatively low

Smaug

In this scenario, the University of Westeros might prove the better option because there are more pros than cons. If you’re being thorough, you should think about how much each points matter to you. For example, you might not be too bothered that the university is three hours from home, but you might be keen to live on-campus for your whole course.

4. What does your gut say?

Taking a rational approach to decisions is really important, but you should also pay attention to your gut feeling. Your emotions can be a good guide to how “right” a decision is. On paper, a particular course of action may make sense, but it might be out of kilter with your personal values – or something inside might just tell you things are likely to go awry. At work, decisions often affect people, and your gut feeling or emotional reaction might tell you whether a certain course of action is right for your colleagues or team.

5. How would you justify your decision if somebody asked you to?

Taking a thorough approach to decision-making is often pains taking and time consuming, which can make it tempting to cut corners to save time, particularly when you’re up against it time-wise.

A useful technique can be to think about how you would explain your decision if someone in asked you to – somebody like your boss or teacher, for example!

Asking how you would explain your decision to the boss can help sharpen the mind...

If you don’t like to picture an authority figure peering over your shoulder, you could imagine you were answering to someone you respect.

6. What would you do if you were taking this decision in your personal life?

Often we’re quite detached from decisions at work, and it’s easy to persuade yourself that the outcome doesn’t really matter. If you’re feeling this way, it might help to take charge of your choice. Pretending it’s a personal decision can encourage you to see more clearly and give you a sense of ownership and pride in the outcome - a key part of making good decisions. This way, you can become more cautious about the possible drawbacks of a given course of action and more likely to look for the least risky and most beneficial option.

Now we’ve completed our crash course in how to improve your decision-making skills, why not swot up on other skills employers love but don’t often come across?

It might surprise you to learn that the skill most employers find graduates lack is the ability to communicate. Here’s how you can improve your communication skills.

 

Image credits

Lead image via Maxpixel

Thinking monkey via Wikimedia Commons

Anchorman gif via Giphy

Darth Vader gif via Giphy

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