Decision Making

Using Thinking Skills in Decision Making

I must have a prodigious amount of mind; it takes me as much as a week to make it up.                                       — Mark Twain

Six Kinds of Decision Making

We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us.   — Ken Levine

I divided Decision-Making into six categories. Others might well divide decisions into very different categories. Discussing different kinds of decisions can remove the fallacy that all decisions are or should be made using the same process.

1. Trivial Decision Making

What flavor ice cream do you want today? Which bench shall we sit on at the park. What music will we listen to as we drive? Most of these decisions don’t really matter. Don’t waste time thinking about them. Choose something on an impulse and get on to something more important.

2. Collective Decision Making

Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.   — James Surowiecki

This is the decision-making process most often described. It begins with time spent defining the problem or problems. It can use any arrangement of these steps.

A. Define your goals, problems, values, and priorities
B. Create a list of alternative choices.
C. For each alternative, study the potential consequences. What are the best and worst things that could possibly happen?
D. List the reasons for and against each alternative. Obviously, each reason does not carry equal weight. Just because you have twenty reasons against an idea and only one idea in support does not mean automatically rejecting the alternative. This process just puts all the information in front of everyone. Be sure that everyone listens and really understands each persons reason for supporting or rejecting each idea.
E. If you discover that more information is needed, make a list of questions and take the time to collect relevant information.
F. Begin by narrowing the list of alternatives to choose from. You might ask each person to state a preference or several preferences but this is NOT a vote. You want a consensus.

G. You might create a lis of criteria to help in judging which is the best decision.
H. Continue the conversation until all, or very nearly all participants of fully supportive of one alternative.

You now have a decision made by consensus by a well-informed group of people.

Can an individual use the same procedure? Yes, of course, but they might miss out on the value of having input from many sources. They might, instead, talk to a variety of trusted people for their input.

 3. Individual objective Decision Making

There are moments that define a person’s whole life. MOMENTS in which everything they are and everything they may possibly become hinge on a single decision.   — Jonathan Mayberry

April Kim thinks about her futureThis is similar to Collective Decision Making. This is probably the  kind of Decision Making you are looking for.

April Kim, the young woman in the picture, is trying to make two difficult decisions. She needs to choose her major and she is undecided about her future. For years she has planned to go to study chemistry and go into research. Now she is thinking she should go to medical school instead. Now, it is time to make a decision.

A. State the question as clearly and specifically as possible. It is better to ask “Should I major in Biology or Chemistry” rather than the more general question, “What should I major in? Hopefully you, like April, have already narrowed down the choices.

B. List your values or reasons for selecting a major. Do you want to study something that you are most interested in? Do you want to study a subject that is easier for you and one for which you would expect higher grades? Do you want to study a subject that will lead to the kind of work you would like to do?  Do you want to study a subject that will give you he best chances of getting into Medical School or into research.

C. Before continuing, ask yourself if there are other possible majors you really should consider.

D. In order to make a good decision, ask yourself if there other information you need? If so, list your questions and spend a few days, if needed, to collect this information.

E. Look at all your options. Ask the best and worst possible consequences that might occur with each alternative.

F. Now, write your reasons for and against each alternative. By this time, you might decide that the best choice is obvious. If it isn’t, it is always wise to wait another day and look at the choices again. Do not look at the NUMBER of reasons you have for and against each choice. They do not have equal value.

G.  Unlike Collective Decision Making, you need to make the decision yourself. You might ask other people their opinions, but the decision is yours and it IS NOT RATIONAL. What someone else would choose and what you should choose, looking at the same data, are likely to be different. You must recognize and choose the answer you feel is right for you.

4. Religious or Value-based Decision Making

Members of all religious groups and others with no religious affiliation may at some point feel strongly that something is required of you. You should not be afraid to deal with this “calling.” In fact, it might well be related to issues you have been struggling with for a long time.

On the other hand, don’t rush into something without thinking clearly first. Important leaders in many religions spent a long period thinking through what they needed to do. If you announce your decision to the world – or to all your friends before you have time to think it though, you will feel really foolish if you change your mind. I imagine there are many people who make sudden decisions who wish they could take it back but feel that they are stuck with their decision.

This will not be a purely rational decision, but it is worth the time to look at consequences of your choices, the reasons for an against it, how this choice will affect others who are important in your life. Ask yourself what alternatives might be better. Then, after a few weeks or longer spent in thinking, prayer, and meditation,  or just plain hard thinking, make the choice you know is the right choice for you.

5. Emotional Decision Making

Who will you marry? The last thing I would suggest that  is that you take a list of possible spouses and analyze your reasons for and against marrying each of them. Marriage is more than a strictly  rational choice.

On the other hand, you should also avoid making this decision only because of your emotions. You should not decide to marry someone because they are so sexy or because it feels so great making love to this person.

A. Begin by making a list of what you are looking for in a spouse. You might not find the perfect person and that’s all right. Prioritize this list. Are the most important qualities their appearance? their education? their religious background and values, their hopes for the future, their interest in raising a family (or not having children), their attitudes toward life, their political beliefs, their concerns for helping others less fortunate than themselves…..

B. When meeting people and making friends, focus on people who fit at least part of your description. If religious beliefs are important, meet people in church. If political beliefs are important, work on a campaign and meet others doing the same thing – or go to political rallies.

C. If you meet someone wonderful (which often means someone who thinks you are wonderful) do some serious thinking before “falling in love.” Meet this person’s family and see how they treat each other. Meet their friends. Discuss serious topics.

Are there any warning signs… jealousy …. violence … hatred of anyone ….selfishness….. emotional problems …. anger…. irrational fears……prejudices…   Any of these can lead to a decision you might regret.

D. If you think you can change the other person, try changing them now.

I could deal with marrying someone who didn’t enjoy dancing, but I could never have married someone who was prejudiced, or who wouldn’t be willing to give money to worthy causes. I would never have married anyone who thought they could tell me what to do.

My husband and I are still happily married after 50 years. In our early years together, we both went to Selma, Alabama to march with Martin Luther King. There was no question about that. We were in total agreement.

We also have individual interests. He gardens while I write. We read very different kinds of books. We order different meals at restaurants.And we occasionally watch different shows on television. But our religious and political beliefs are the same. We like the same charitable groups, we both enjoy birdwatching, we both enjoy eating in small ethnic restaurants, and so much more.

Sexual attraction doesn’t hold a marriage together very long. Start out with someone you really want to spend a lifetime with.  When you find someone you’d really like to spend your life with, someone who feels the same ways about you, then ask if there is an emotional attraction. You need this too. Then, follow your brain and your emotions.

6. Instant Decision Making

There are some decisions you have to make without thinking. The pilot of a plane whose engines have stopped working don’t have time to think. They need to act quickly, based on training and intuition.

If you see a child dash into traffic, you don’t have time to think. If the brakes in your car stop working you may need to decide to hit a truck coming toward you or drive off the road in an area where children are playing, you have to act without time to think. If you consider different possibilities and think about what you’d do, you might be better prepared and you might not.

The pilot goes through training that should help him respond appropriately, but we don’t have that opportunity. We can only hope that our responses are wise.

A human being is a deciding being.    — Viktor Frankl

This life is yours. Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well. Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly. Take the power to control your own life. No one can do it for you. Take the power to make your life happy.
— Susan Polis Schultz

You might also want to read the page on      Judgment

Leave a Reply