How to Improve Your Decision-Making Skills

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In today’s world, information constantly bombards us. Studies suggest that we consume over 34 GB of data each day. So how can we make better decisions when there is so much data to filter through?

Here are several different ways to improve your decision-making skills.

Turn on the mind-body connection

Mark is a high-powered executive used to operating at lightning-speed but suffering from analysis-paralysis. He wanted to regain his ability to make effective decisions and propel the organization forward.  

At our first meeting, Mark was visibly upset and his mind elsewhere. He had a key business meeting coming up the following day, for which he had to make an important decision. In addition, his lower back was hurting.

I asked Mark to complete several breathing and stretching exercises. After this, Mark was visibly calmer. He shared that his lower back was hurting much less and that he made a decision.

The practice of tuning into your body is commonplace in eastern societies but lesser so in the western world. Often, we in the west rely simply on our brains to help us make decisions. But leveraging the mind-body connection helps us make better decisions that feel right, resonate with our hearts and guide us to preferred outcomes.

Train yourself to make better decisions

As an ambitious and busy executive pursuing a PhD, Evelyn was juggling many things on her plate. She came to me feeling overwhelmed and indecisive about how to accomplish her objectives. We used a three-prong approach to help her make decisions about where to focus her time, energy and efforts.  

We first used the ‘kitchen sink’ approach to identify and write down all of her goals on one google sheet. This approach raised Evelyn’s awareness of her big picture. After completing this task, Evelyn realized she had 34 distinct personal and professional goals she wanted to accomplish.

We then used a framework to help her rate the resources, impact, priority and effort for each goal. Having all of her goals in one place and applying a consistent framework created clarity for Evelyn.

With the completed framework in place, Evelyn revisited her big picture without being overwhelmed by indecision and doubt. She confidently made strategic decisions about which tasks to address first.

Draw on personal experiences

I learned how to identify customer preferences working as a grocery store courtesy clerk. So when deciding how to bag customers’ groceries – I remembered each customer’s preferences and bagged their groceries accordingly. Weekly store sales increased and I happily received tips from satisfied customers.

In my first corporate role, I was a customer service representative serving North American automotive dealerships. My French and Spanish studies taught me the importance of building relationships first rather than addressing the problem, as the call protocol instructed me to do. My decision to focus on building strong relationships first with my French-Canadian and Mexican clients led to increased customer satisfaction scores and improved business unit performance.

There are many ways to draw on your own experience to make decisions. Consider situations from your early career, college studies, or family life that you can use. Which of your life experiences will help inform your thinking about a particular situation? How can you use training in one area to help you make decisions in another area?

Remove biases

A successful leader in a large telecommunications organization, Justin learned that three new direct reports would be assigned to him. During a recent coaching call, Justin shared his impressions of each person. In particular, he was concerned about each individual’s ability to perform. He believed this to be true since despite years of tenure they weren’t promoted.

When I suggested that he was judging each person based on his own biases, Justin was taken aback. Surprised, he sat back in his chair and took a moment to reflect.  He then agreed, that yes, he was biased and not giving each person a clean slate. He decided to broaden his perspective and accept his new team members without bias or judgment.

The most effective way to remove bias is to first become aware of it. You can become aware of it by working with an experienced coach who recognizes your behavior patterns. You can then decide what you want to do with this information – dismiss it or take action. Justin chose to take action, intentionally suspend judgment, and be open to accepting his new team members just as they are.

Engage in reflection

Reflection is the process of turning inward and considering one’s actions, beliefs, and behaviors. This introspection generates meaning, which in turn drives learning agility.  Research suggests that leaders who reflect perform better than leaders who don’t.

At the beginning of 2020, I spent a month in Bali on a personal transformation journey. Every morning I reflected on the previous day’s happenings and spent several hours journaling. I considered my feelings and evaluated how they impacted my behaviors, thinking or actions. I identified what I would do differently the next time. This reflection and learning created tremendous growth and opportunity for me holistically.

Consider which reflection tool will work best for you. Perhaps you use pen and paper. Or a google doc to quickly type your thoughts. DayOne is a journaling app designed for your phone. Whichever method you choose, ensure it is sustainable.

There are multiple ways to improve your decision-making capability. Writing things down raises awareness and understanding. Applying a framework creates consistency and structure. Seeing the big picture creates clarity and confidence. Practice will help you strengthen your decision-making muscle. Enhancing this important capability will make you a more effective professional and leader.

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