We use our decision making skills to solve problems by selecting one course of action from several possible alternatives. Decision making skills are also a key component of time management skills.
Decision making can be hard. Almost any decision involves some conflicts or dissatisfaction. The difficult part is to pick one solution where the positive outcome can outweigh possible losses. Avoiding decisions often seems easier. Yet, making your own decisions and accepting the consequences is the only way to stay in control of your time, your success, and your life.
A significant part of decision making skills is in knowing and practicing good decision making techniques. Main decision making techniques can be summarized in those simple decision making steps:
Identify the purpose of your decision. What is exactly the problem to be solved? Why it should be solved?
Gather information. What factors does the problem involve?
Identify the principles to judge the alternatives. What standards and criteria should the solution meet?
Brainstorm and list different possible choices. Generate ideas for possible solutions. Brainstorming works best if you have a way to get your ideas out of your head. (Write them down on paper!) And if you just keep writing as many as possible without judging them yet.
Evaluate each choice in terms of its consequences. Use your standards and criteria to determine the cons and pros of each alternative.
Determine the best alternative. This is much easier after you go through the above preparation steps.
Put the decision into action. Transform your decision into specific plan of action steps. Execute your plan.
Evaluate the outcome of your decision and action steps. What lessons can be learnt? This is an important step for further development of your decision making skills.
Anatomy of a Decision
Making a good decision requires patience and careful thought. Following a step-by-step approach can help.
Step –1: Define the Problem
Size up the situation.
Examine the problem thoroughly - look at it from all angles.
Keep thinking - don't be satisfied with quick, easy answers.
Avoid mistaking the problem's symptoms (for example, a shortage of money) for the problem itself (poor spending habits, too much debt, etc.).
Set goals and priorities. Ask yourself:
– "What do I want to achieve by making this decision - what are my goals?"
– "Which of these goals must I meet in order to solve this problem - what are my priorities?"
Write down your goals and priorities; review them often.
Try to put your goals in measurable terms (time, money, etc.) so you can measure your success later on.
Step 2: Reevaluate the Situation.
(step 1 may have changed your view of the problem!)
Consider your options. Once you've identified the problem, ask yourself:
Don't make unnecessary decisions. Be aware that the best decision may be to do nothing for the time being. But don't delay just to avoid making a tough or unpleasant decision. Be honest with yourself! If you decide that action is needed, proceed to step 3.
Step 3: Gather Information.
In order to solve a problem, you should make yourself an "expert" on the subject.
Use your time wisely. If a decision is not immediately necessary, use your time to gather information. (Be sure you leave enough time to act on your decision, though.) Seek advice. Get help from people who know more about the details of the problem. Don't be afraid to admit that you don't know something. Use all resources. Use the library, employee records, any source of facts on the problem.
Step 4: Think of Alternatives.
At this stage of the decision-making process, any idea is a good idea.
Be open. Don't limit yourself to ideas that sound "reasonable." Try "brainstorming" (listing anything and everything that comes to mind). Don't judge. Avoid jumping to conclusions. Gather all your ideas before considering your alternatives. Record your ideas. Put all your thoughts on paper, so you can evaluate them later.
Step 5: Choose an Alternative.
Test each alternative carefully, to see how it measures up against the others.
Think ahead. Try to imagine the consequences of each alternative. Ask yourself, "What will happen if...?" Be thorough, and give each plan a chance. Be practical. Make sure your plans can be carried out. For example, does your organization have the equipment to make the changes you have in mind? Is the solution more expensive than the problem? Be creative. If necessary, combine the best features of several different ideas. Make a new alternative - one that works! Choose the alternative that will best achieve the goals and priorities you identified in step 1.
Step 6: Put Your Decision to Work
Take action. Don't satisfy yourself with simply having made a tough decision. A good decision means nothing until it's put into effect. Inform others. Make sure everyone affected by your decision knows what will change, and why. Explain what improvements they can expect as a result of your decision. Ask for feedback.
Follow up on your plan. Check from time to time to see that any changes you made are still in effect - or to see if adjustments are needed. Also, make sure the problem you solved has not returned or taken another form.
S. Manikandan is working as a Faculty Adviser on Personality Development and Soft Skills Training at Dr. Mahalingam College of Engineering and Technology, Coimbatore Dist, Tamil Nadu.