Some decisions are more important than others. Choosing what to wear or how to have your eggs are pretty low-risk.
But as you progress in your career and enter leadership positions, these decisions can have far-reaching consequences, so developing good decision-making skills is crucial.
Decision-making skills are essential for personal and career development. They keep you from making snap judgments while also preventing analysis paralysis. Assessing obstacles with a level head and a consistent framework will improve the outcomes of your choices and build trust between you and your team members.
What are decision-making skills?
Like all skill sets, decision making is a collection of habits and thought processes you practice and hone over time. Instead of simply trusting your gut, decision-making skills help you:
Sometimes, the biggest roadblock in effective decision making is recognizing that you have a decision to make. People often assume a problem will go away on its own or that a big decision is someone else’s responsibility.
If you’re a leader in your workplace or hope to become one, it’s crucial to recognize the weight of your choices and exercise the appropriate types of decision-making skills. Decisive action sets clear goals for your team, cultivates an accountable workforce, and increases productivity and worker satisfaction — so your team’s set for success.
Common decisions leaders must make at work
Leaders handle countless decisions that have ripple effects throughout the workplace. Even seemingly unrelated choices about finances, logistics, and employee morale can have widespread impacts on each other. That’s why careful decision making is crucial to developing effective management skills.
Here are some examples of decisions you may face as a leader in the workplace:
6 types of decision-making skills
Various skills and acquired habits drive the decision-making process, spanning a broad range of logical, emotional, and knowledge-driven practices. Honing these skills will improve your overall decision making, and highlighting them in your resume or on the job is an excellent way to prove you have management potential.
Here are the primary skill types you need to be a decisive leader.
1. Problem-solving skills
This includes logical reasoning, critical thinking, and scientific literacy — all of which represent your ability to absorb and apply data to the task at hand. Exercising these skills helps you avoid anchoring bias: when you make snap judgments based on the first piece of information you receive.
In addition to aiding informed decision making, problem-solving skills are attractive to potential employers. A survey found that 87% of employers require problem-solving skills when evaluating new business school hires.
If you’re not sure how to hone this set of abilities, start by doing your research. Often, the first step to solving a problem is gathering the necessary information and context. Only then can you interpret data and draw connections between past experiences and your current situation to understand where and how you can improve.
2. Time management skills
Time management and decision making go hand-in-hand. The stress of urgent, high-pressure decisions can incite tunnel vision and binary thinking, and the resulting poor choices often lead to even more stressful scenarios.
On the other hand, scheduling and budgeting your time requires you to make many careful decisions, like how to prioritize your tasks. But doing so will improve your decision-making abilities in the future.
3. Creativity skills
If a decision stumps you, you might need to think outside the box. Creativity helps you ideate possible solutions beyond what’s most apparent. After you’ve done some brainstorming, problem-solving strategies can help you identify the most reasonable options.
If you want to improve your creativity, effective time management might come in handy here, too. Studies show that calm, low-intensity emotions aid in broadened thinking, whereas passionate, high-intensity emotions encourage a narrower scope of attention. Balancing the two is vital for effective decision-making.
4. Emotional intelligence skills
Since emotions significantly affect your thinking, you might consider them an obstacle to good decision making. But there’s significant evidence showing that emotions are not only helpful for making decisions — they’re vital. Emotions may assist the mind in compacting experiences and lines of reasoning into “gut reactions” that allow for split-second choices.
The key to interpreting these emotions into actionable ideas lies in your emotional intelligence. Rather than suppressing your feelings when faced with a tough choice, it’s often more beneficial to acknowledge them and practice emotional regulation skills to use them to your advantage.
5. Collaboration skills
No one person has all the answers — that’s where group decisions come into play. As a leader, your ability to facilitate communication and set common goals directly influences your team’s decision-making efficacy. Leadership skills such as active listening and constructive feedback encourage your team to share their ideas.
Delegation of authority is another key factor of collaboration. Delegation takes part of the workload off your plate, preventing you from developing decision fatigue that may impair your choices. It also shows your team that you trust them, leading to reduced stress, increased motivation, and greater job satisfaction.
6. Foresight and planning skills
It’s one thing to know where you’re going, it’s another to know how to get there. Planning and strategic foresight will ensure you and your team execute your decisions without a hitch. These skills are especially critical when building a future-minded organization.
To understand how you’ll reach success, you must plan a careful route, mapping potential outcomes and creating contingencies based on current trends.
Decision paralysis often occurs when you have too many options and don’t know how to predict their results. Foresight supports a rational decision model that lets you narrow down your options based on what’s likely to happen.
Foresight also helps you make intentional second-order decisions — the choices you make about when, where, and how to make a choice. With careful consideration, second-order decisions can minimize the cost of first-order judgments and reduce errors.
5 tips for making better decisions
Responsibility brings with it countless choices. There’s no one-size-fits-all decision-making procedure that guarantees success, but some tactics consistently ease the process and improve outcomes. These simple tips will improve your decision-making skills, so you can feel confident in your choices.
1. Take your time
Rushing adds unnecessary stress to the decision-making process. A study from Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh found that participants who had even a fraction of a second longer to make a choice did so with significantly greater accuracy.
Instead of jumping into action, take your time to gather the necessary context before you start trying to think of solutions. That said, more time and info aren’t always better — we’ll discuss this in the next step.
2. Avoid analysis paralysis
It’s wise to seek out relevant information before making a decision, but too much input starts to muddy the waters. With access to a firehose of info online, people hesitate to make decisions because they feel anxious about missing essential details. At a certain point, you have to act.
You can take several steps to limit the scope of your considerations, such as setting a deadline, outlining strict research parameters, and breaking your decision into smaller logical steps.
3. Commit to your decisions (but don’t overcommit)
Once you’ve decided on a course of action, give it your all. Studies show that exercising control over a scenario improves confidence, motivation, and self-perceived performance. Conversely, lacking self-confidence can discourage you from putting in your best effort, which will doom even the wisest choice.
This doesn’t mean you should ignore adverse outcomes or continue to push when you’ve made a mistake. The sunk cost fallacy is a common cognitive bias where you continue to push for a failing course of action because you’re attached to the resources you’ve already spent.
When a project goes downhill, you must decide whether you should change tactics. Don’t let the fact that you used several resources and team member time and energy on one method sway you to continue down a clearly ill-advised path.
4. Weigh each option’s pros and cons
Once you’ve narrowed down the options, directly compare them with a weighted pros and cons matrix to find the best decision. This goes beyond a simple list by assigning more value to the benefits and drawbacks that matter most to your success.
5. Measure the results and learn from the outcomes
The right decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. Learning from your mistakes and successes is the best way to become a consistently good decision-maker. Before implementing your choices, create SMART goals with quantifiable metrics to objectively determine what worked and what didn’t.
Once you’ve learned from prior outcomes, each ensuing decision becomes easier. Famous thought leaders and business influencers often talk about making gut decisions, but years of experience and accumulated wisdom back their intuitions.
Better decisions make better leaders
Being a leader means constantly looking for ways to improve. One of the best methods is evaluating past outcomes to inform future choices. With enough decisions under your belt, you’ll soon be a decisive expert.
If you’re wondering how to make better decisions, practice these decision-making skills and note your progress. If making a choice often overwhelms you, keep track of the decisions you make with ease. That way, you can celebrate your successes and motivate yourself to keep up the hard work.