Each and every day, we make hundreds of decisions large and small that shape the course of our lives, businesses, and society. Most of our decisions are good enough to get us by, but why is it that we have such a hard time making great decisions? The answer is: when it comes to making decisions, we are human, and research shows that we are subject to certain biases that impact our decision-making processes. Practicing strategies that countermand those biases make all the difference between an outcome that is good enough and one that is great!
Great decisions can lead to improved productivity, effectiveness, and the quality of your life. Although we cannot disengage our biases we can—through practice and discipline—employ the four strategies below to counteract them:
1. Widen the Frame and Explore All the Possible Options
When faced with a decision many of us ask ourselves, “Should I choose option A or option B?” without ever considering that there are other possible choices, or that option A and option B are not mutually exclusive. Resisting the urge to too narrowly frame your choices at the outset prevents you from spotlighting only one alternative at the expense of all others. Widen your frame and focus by choosing to rephrase the question.
Instead of asking “What should I choose—option A or B?” ask yourself, “What are the possible options available to me in the current situation?” An open-ended question like that helps you shift the spotlight from center stage, and allows you to consider what lies just beyond the spotlight off stage. Inviting the full array of possibilities into the decision-making process enables you to entertain, explore, and allow the many possibilities to coalesce into a clear array of choices. Ultimately, your final choice(s) are more comprehensive and a more beneficial decision is made.
2. Side Step the Confirmation Bias Trap
Our natural tendency is to seek out information that not only pushes us toward that which confirms our beliefs, attitudes, and actions, but also causes us to discount information and opinions that countermand our beliefs. Researchers and scholars refer to this tendency as confirmation bias. Side stepping confirmation bias can be difficult for even the most seasoned decision maker because it is so insidious. Often we think we are making a well-reasoned and logical appraisal of the facts, when what we have really been doing is seeking out information that supports our position and discounting information that does not.
So the first key step in side stepping confirmation bias is to acknowledge that it exists and be aware that we have to make adjustments in how we evaluate and weigh information given to us, especially information that supports our natural inclination and gut instinct. Inviting others who passionately disagree with you to challenge your original beliefs, assumptions, and view of the facts can help you highlight any gaps, unsupported facts, or conclusions. Be able to clearly identify the weaknesses in your point of view and the strengths of the counter argument, and consider both when making your decision. This can help you uncover contradictory evidence that calls into question your original inclination. Lastly, be more suspicious of information that confirms your beliefs rather than disproves them.
3. Get off the Roller Coaster of Emotions and Get Distance to Gain Perspective
Emotions and feelings run high when one is faced with an important decision. We often feel like we are riding the emotional roller coaster of highs and lows as we start to consider the choices and their impact on our lives. Despite our best efforts, it is hard to remain emotionally detached from the decision and approach it in an objectively rational way. We can become myopic in our thinking, replaying the arguments for and against, and with each twist and turn become awash in emotion both positive and negative. The strategy for making better decisions and counteracting the short-term emotions associated with decision-making in these circumstances is to step off the emotional roller coaster and allow time for the short-term emotions to subside.
No matter how cool and collected you believe you are under pressure, your automatic stress response of fight or flight is at play. Creating and practicing strategies and ways of stepping back and not responding in the moment—even if for just a brief time—will help you acknowledge the things you’re feeling and give you the chance to get perspective. When possible, sleep on your decisions, take a brief break, or just pause and take a breath before going forward with action. Regrouping, refocusing, and slowing down your response, however brief, allows the emotion to subside, the dust to settle, and your automatic response to recede. In doing so, you create distance and perspective.
4. Expect That The Unknown Will Happen
Our natural instincts cause us to have a high level of confidence in our ability to predict how the future will unfold. We focus on information that is close at hand, given to us by experts, based on other similar experiences, and draw conclusions from that. But there is one glaring problem: neither the experts nor we know what we don’t know. The things we don’t know have a tendency to sneak up and surprise us. Uncertainty and unpredictability are a part of life, and recognizing that they factor into how a decision plays out once implemented can help you prepare yourself to get it wrong.
Good decision makers know and accept that there are things that you cannot know in the moment, and that you don’t know what you don’t know until it happens. This knowledge enables you to prepare to make the necessary adjustments as the decision unfolds that will keep it on track toward your overall goal. Remember, 100% accuracy is not the mark of a good decision or decision maker, but it’s how you respond to those unknown facts, as they become known, that can make all the difference in the outcome.
These four strategies will help you make better decisions and make them with more confidence. However, give yourself a break when the inevitable bad decision happens… after all, we are only human.
Are you willing to give one or all of these a try in the next month? Please share your experience with me in the comments field below.