“I was reading one of your old articles, the one about making decisions,” Paddy said, “and I’ve got some questions for you.”
“Be happy to answer them,” I assured him. “Where do you want to begin?”
“Well,” Paddy said, “What separates the good decision makers from the bad?”
“The main thing,” I told him, “is that good decision makers aren’t afraid of being wrong occasionally. They know that the only way to never make a mistake is to never make a decision. They also know that if they never make decisions they seldom accomplish anything.”
“What’s the most important element in making decisions?” Paddy asked.
“There are two critical elements in decision making,” I said. “The first is to wait until your emotions are in neutral before making an important decision. Decisions made strictly on the basis of emotion usually turn out to be bad decisions.”
“Got some examples?” Paddy prompted.
“Let’s start with being overly enthusiastic,” I said. “Being overly enthusiastic can often lead to impulsive decisions that turn out bad. It could be as benign as buying a new gadget that you realize when you get it home you’ll not get much use out of. Or it could be as serious as buying a house you love at first blush without doing enough research on the neighbourhood, having the house inspected, or giving enough consideration to future requirements; then having to sell it at a substantial loss when it doesn’t work out.”
“How many people do things like that?” Paddy asked.
“Lots,” I assured him.
“Go on,” he urged.
“You should never make important decisions when you’re angry. Angry people are even more impulsive that overly enthusiastic people. It’s rare for a good decision to be made in the throes of anger.”
“Like a hockey player getting mad and retaliating by swinging his stick at an opponent’s head?” Paddy offered.
“That’s a bit extreme,” I suggested, “but it does make the point.”
“Are there any other emotions that lead to bad decisions?” Paddy asked.
“At least two,” I told him. “Making decisions in the midst of sorrow, such as a new widow selling her home and moving to another city away from family and friends, only to have to move back in a year or so after much unhappiness and financial loss.”
“And the other,” Paddy prodded.
“Making decisions when you’ve just been humiliated,” I told him. “I once saw a young accounting student lashing out at his boss during an office party because the boss had made what the student took to be a disparaging remark about his background. Their relationship was so poisoned that the student had to change firms. The student should have decided to stay quiet rather than deciding to go on the offensive.”
“Well, I think those are unusual situations,” Paddy complained. “Can you give me some decision-making advice that’s more general?”
“That would lead us to the second critical element of decision making,” I told him, “which is to gather as much information as you can before coming to your conclusion. Decisions are rarely better than the information on which they’re based. To get the information necessary to make a sound decision you have to carefully examine all facets of the situation and ask questions. I’ve rarely, if ever, regretted asking a question, whereas there’ve been many times when I’ve regretted not asking one.”
“Go on.” Paddy urged as I paused to take a drink of coffee.
“While gathering your information you have to be completely objective,” I told him. “You can’t change facts by ignoring them; reality has to be faced. It’s not what you would like the situation to be that matters; it’s what the situation actually is that has to be dealt with. For example, if you don’t have the time or the means to follow through on a particular plan of action, then a different decision has to be made.”
“Is there a magic formula for this?” Paddy asked.
“There is,” I happily answered. “The best formula for decision-making that I’ve ever come across was one I learned many years ago when I took the Dale Carnegie Course. It was a five-step process that went something like this:
1) State the problem as simply as possible.
2) List all the causes of the problem.
3) List every possible solution, no matter how far out it might seem (which is what’s called brainstorming today).
4) Pick the best possible solution.
5) Decide what action to take.”
“Makes sense,” Paddy said.
“Yes,” I agreed, “Going through these steps will also help keep your emotions in check and ensure that you’ve gathered sufficient information on which to base a decision.”
“Is there anything else to consider?” Paddy asked
“Timing is always a key element of decision making,” I told him. “Avoid the two extremes, which are unwarranted delay and decisions made too quickly. When being pressured into a quick decision, the best answer is always no.”
“Why?” Paddy inquired
“Because it’s usually easier to change a no to a yes than vice versa” I explained. “Never rush a decision if there’s no compelling reason to do so.”
“What if you just can’t make up your mind?” was Paddy’s next question.
“As I mentioned, that’s the other extreme. Indecision is not desirable either. You should always consider the consequences of inaction. Indecision always results in delays in getting on with things and may open the door to distractions.”
“Is there any way to know for sure you’re right?” Paddy asked.
“Not that I know of,” I admitted, “but if both your gut and your brain are telling you that you’re right, you probably are.”
“So,” Paddy wondered, “do you get better at making decisions the more you do it?”
“Indeed,” I said. “The more you make decisions the better you get at curtailing your emotions and gathering information.”
“Got any more points?” Paddy asked.
“Yes,” I said as I noticed a guy at the next table blowing on his coffee, “always remember that when you get a mouthful of scalding hot coffee, whatever you do next is going to be wrong.”