Do you have this crucial decision making skill?
We’re often told improving our decision making skills is a sure fire way to succeed in your career, and life in general.
When people want to improve their decision making skills most people think in terms of acquiring or buffing up on specific techniques. These are often thought of as the rational requisites – logical thinking, weighing up facts, statistics and counter claims, being able to understand and organise data, carrying out or commissioning relevant research.
Being able to recognise and make allowances for your own biases or blind spots is also considered an important skill. So is being able to seize the initiative and take decisions on your own behalf or in a leadership role for others.
A crucial but often overlooked decision making skill
Perhaps one of the most important decision making skills is something not everyone would describe as a skill and yet it can be one of the most crucial factors in making decisions.
Most situations that require you to make a decision aren’t a foregone conclusion – otherwise there would be no reason to decide. Decisions are always about what is to be done next or at some future time, and who can reliably know the future?
If we believe we have choice – a belief that underpins all decision making – we can only have choice if the future isn’t predetermined. We can’t completely predict the future or the impact our decision will have. So all decisions involve risk to a greater or lesser degree.
Risk is scary. It can also be exhilarating. Some people get their kicks by purposefully putting themselves or their finances in peril with extreme sports or extreme gambling. The risk involved in making any decision is often not obvious, but still takes courage to handle, because taking or authorizing action of some kind is implicit in decision making Even the decision to refrain from doing something involves a kind of action.
Making any important decision calls for courage
If courage is to some degree is essential to some degree for making and implementing our decisions, how do we find it, and can we cultivate courage? It’s not like following a tech manual!
The obvious way to prove to others and yourself how courageous you can be might be to undertake some hazardous or life threatening challenge – crossing Niagara falls on a tight rope, fire walking over hot coals. But while performing this kind of extreme challenge your decision making is reduced to simplicity itself: focused one step at a time on how to keep going and survive to complete the ordeal.
In situations of immanent danger, when there isn’t time to think, making make a quick decision can save lives, including your own. Afterwards you may recognise the courage it took to decide and others may commend your courage and quick thinking.
Such highly charged and focused experiences do call for courage. If there’s a successful outcome, or you’re seen as trying to save the day, you’ll certainly be applauded for demonstrating courage! If challenges of this kind help you think of yourself as courageous that can help. But they don’t always translate easily to the courage needed to make important decisions which aren’t immediately a matter of life or death. Sometimes it’s a mark of courage to stop and think.
Making important decisions in circumstances that don’t appear so extreme can require far more courage, when there is time to reflect and speculate. The outcome may be uncertain, sometimes terrifyingly unknown. Ramifications of your decision may be quite unpredictable in the long or even in the short term. Disaster or outstanding success, something satisfactory, mediocre or downright disappointing may lie in wait, but without a reliable crystal ball it can be hard to predict which you’ll encounter from which choice.
You may feel ill equipped to decide with the information you have to hand, and you may doubt whether others will back your decision. Yes, making an important decision can be scary!
So can you cultivate decision making courage?
Facing fear is usually more empowering than denying fear is felt. But don’t just wait till the need to summon up courage looms large. Recognise that being decisive requires courage, and give yourself the credit for when you have been courageous in making a decision in the past. The more you acknowledge with hindsight the courage it took to make your important decisions, the easier it will become to find courage when a new decision demands it.
Get over the compulsion to ‘get it right’. Fear of making ‘the wrong decision’ is one of the biggest obstacles to effective decision making. Attempt to make the best decision you can by all means, but striving to make ‘the right decision’ traps you in a dead end. Your life is a work in progress, and so is developing the courage to make decisions that serve your values and priorities.
Accepting responsibility for your decision – whatever the outcome – is crucial. Ducking responsibility and blaming others when things don’t turn out as planned diminishes your personal power and eats away at your courage.
When you own the decision you create more scope to adjust things if necessary. You’re also more likely to get others on board to help implement what you’ve decided.
Take time to review the important decisions you make and the outcome. Assess honestly whether you were timid, foolhardy or courageous, and see if your approach is reflected in the results of your decisions.
This is a circular process - the more you find the courage to make decisions the more you’ll find yourself courageously making decisions! As the decisions you make will shape your life and create your future, surely it’s worth cultivating the courage to make your decisions courageously. This doesn’t mean going gung-ho alone any more than it means asking everybody else what your decision should be. It can be courageous to accept responsibility for making your decision and get appropriate help – such as Decision Treehouse offers.
Remember the mark of courage is not the absence of fear, it’s taking appropriate, worthwhile action to actually make that decision – despite the fear.