How to decide

Imagine polling your colleagues to determine what you personally will have for lunch. What about dictating to your neighbours how they should vote? Seems ridiculous right? Yet as silly as that sounds we can get into a decision making rut. Using the same approach for all decisions. When you consider the range of decisions we have to make on any given day this is not only ineffective, it can create challenges in your business and personal relationships.

The most generous person can become a dictator and the most opinionated can become indecisive by applying the same decision-making style for every eventuality. Consider that there are generally three ways to reach a decision.

Consensus: This is when you gather everyone and take a vote. A true consensus is a rare occurrence, so assume that there will be some outliers, but them aside, consensus decisions are a reflection of most people’s opinion. This is a great approach when choosing government or determining strategic priorities with a board for an organization. In a family setting, it might be how you decide where you stop for lunch during a road trip.

Consensus is great but as you can imagine it takes time. People have to be informed, ideas explained and people will need time to think. Then come the debates and the vote. Not all decisions can afford to wait for the process to unfold and frankly, not all decisions require a group or are even appropriate for a group. Some decisions will impact only a few people and in those instances, the opinion of many and varied voices are not only overkill, it’s disrespectful to those who have to live with the consequences.

Consultative: Consultative decisions are more tightly focused on those who have to take action, those with specific knowledge and those impacted by the decision. Although one person may have final say, this approach allows the decision maker to hear from the relevant players. This approach takes time but is not as time-consuming as consensus. In most healthy organizations, familial and corporate, the majority of decisions reside in this area. It allows participants to own decisions and therefore consequences.

Command: With command, one person is in charge and what they say goes. Long live the king! This approach has it’s uses and is particularly effective in crisis situations. Command decisions allow for fast turn around and are prefaced on the assumption that the decision maker has expert knowledge. Unfortunately, some leaders find the command approach so appealing that they employ it for all decisions. The challenge, of course, is that no one person has perfect knowledge of all issues. It can also slow processes down by creating bottlenecks. With one person making all of the decisions,  projects can begin to pile up.

The thing is, no matter what approach you use, it’s good to keep in mind that others are also available and no one approach works perfectly all the time. Unfortunately, even if you employ the right decision style at the right time, you can still make silly decisions. If this weren’t the case, we’d all be healthy, active, careful savers who never drink too much coffee or wine.

For tips on hacking decision making, check out 5 Hacks for Decision Making.

How do you decide how to decide? Do you know someone who only has one approach to deciding? Ever get caught in a situation where the decision-making approach didn’t fit the issue?

Related Articles:

5 Hacks for Decision Making


16 responses to “How to decide

  • Interesting post, Debra. We all have our own formulas for making decisions. I find that as an optimist, it is generally easier to make decisions as I don’t suffer from self doubt. I have people in my life who are filled with negative energy and it truly impedes them from making decisions efficiently and effectively.

    • Debra Yearwood says:
      April 18, 2018 @ 04:07 pm

      Great point!! I just gave a presentation on the impact and power of optimism and I could not agree with you more.

  • The old style of “command and control” isn’t effective in today’s corporate world where Millennials insist on being part of every decision. I prefer the consultative approach myself, because better decisions are make by people shaping the ideas and solutions. However, eventually there has to be one decision-maker and you have to guard against “paralysis by analysis” which enables a leader to avoid making difficult or unpleasant decisions by keeping the discussion open..

  • This reminds me of a horrible place that I used to work at. The owners had no set style of decision making. You would think this would be a good thing but with them it was all reactionary. You never really knew what to expect at any given time.

    Part of that, came from consulting with people that didn’t have a stake. Or worse making command decisions on a whim and then expecting their workers to follow theough.

    • Asking people who have no stake is one of the things that really infuriates me in a work environment. Inevitably the result of that kind of decision making is disengagement at best and chaos at worst.

      • They always made it worse too with their idea of the week planning. They would implement changes and then leave you to your own devices to make them happen. One of those “I have this idea, now go figure it out.” And then if it all works, they take all the credit for it.

  • Even though I prefer to work alone, I often realize how well I can work with others when it comes to making group decisions. It must come from all those years teaching as well as learning how to view my work as a reflective practice. It’s always difficult to reach consensus when someone in the group is a loud-mouth who tries to silence everyone else. When that happens, it’s important to be able to match the other person’s communication style, even when it doesn’t come naturally. Teaching is great practice at how to read people.

    • I can see how teaching would give you the skill to manage consensus in a group. It’s about making the space to hear all the voices. That can be really challenging when you have even the best intentioned loud mouth. 🙂

  • Having grown up with a father in the forces, the command method is one I avoid. However, if a decision is taking too long, I have on many occasions taken it upon myself to arrive at a final resolution.
    I prefer a consensus when those involved are informed.

  • I’m all for the command…as long as I’m the commander:) Sadly, that’s almost never the case. I think the size of the group deciding is also germane. Consensus is more easily achieved by a committee of 5 than it is with a committee of 20… but almost never possible when 4 couples are deciding where to have dinner:) Seriously…………..

  • HI Debra, I try to fit my decision making to the issue at hand. For the most part I prefer a consultative or consensus approach, but there are times when it just seems a decision can not be made from taking those approaches and I just have to be Queen and take command and make a decision. 🙂 I have worked at a company in the past where the CEO was definitely a “commander” in terms of his decision making process – he would not take input from anyone. Unfortunately his decisions were not what was best and he ran the company right into the ground.

    • There is something about the mantle of leadership that often confuses even the most level headed people. They mistakenly assume that command is the only approach that will work.

  • Flexibility is key when it comes to deciding. There is no set formula. For people who have a set process for how to decide life will become complicated, and full of arguments, to put it mildly.

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