Three Steps to Better Decisions

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By Holly G. Green

CEO, The Human Factor, Inc.

As business leaders, we get paid to make good decisions. Yet, in today’s hyper-paced world, we often rush into decisions rather than pausing to make sure we get them right. The following strategies will help you make better decisions while avoiding the costly “do-overs” that often result from poor ones.

1. Check for listening accuracy.

Miscommunication and misunderstanding during meetings often lead to low-quality decisions. What you thought you said and what people hear are often very different. That’s why it’s important to get in the habit of checking for listening accuracy.

For example, after introducing a new strategy or initiative, you might say, “These are important concepts, so I want to make sure everyone is hearing the same thing. Can you please rephrase what I just said?” Or, expand the discussion by asking, “Did anyone hear it differently? What leads you to see it that way?”

2. Identify any gaps in understanding.

Next, probe for lack of understanding by asking, “Where was I unclear? Where did I not provide enough data? Where do I need to go into more detail?” If you get no response, call on individuals by name. The last thing you want is people nodding their heads in agreement when they internally disagree with everything you’re saying. Encourage everyone to speak up so that you get all perspectives on the table before making the decision.

3. Expose your thinking.

When information isn’t readily available, the human brain makes up stuff to fill in the gaps. Exposing your thinking minimizes the stuff people make up and ensures they have the right information. It also eliminates having to go back and talk about the same things over and over or correct actions taken when people thought they agreed but actually were miles apart.

To expose your thinking, state your assumptions and describe the data that led to them. For example, “Here’s what I think and here’s the supporting evidence that led me to this position.” Then provide more detail. “Based on our previous experience in this area, I assumed…..” Finally, explain the outcomes of your thinking. “I came to this conclusion because….and here’s what it means to this team.”

To test the validity of your conclusions, identify where you feel your reasoning is most tentative. For example, “We don’t know for sure where the market is headed, so I’m guessing a bit on these numbers.” Then ask for feedback on your data and assumptions. “Now that you understand where I’m coming from, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the data and my conclusions.” Most important, make sure all viewpoints are expressed. “It seems like most of you agree, but I want to hear from everyone. Who sees it differently?”

These techniques may require a little more time to make important decisions. But they help to prevent the headlong rush to consensus that so often leads to disaster, and will improve the quality of your decisions on a consistent basis.  These days, you just don’t get the chance to do it over very often!


Additional Reading

Decision Making in Complex Times

What is the Optimal Group Size for Decision Making

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