Are you a decision-maker or just a choice-maker?

Female hand lifting the lid of a small cardboard box

You mean there’s a difference between making a decision and making a choice? Absolutely!

First of all, a decision-maker is a decision-seeker, always searching for the questions that need to be asked. I had a colleague who thought she was a great decision-maker since people were always coming into her office with choices to be made, and she gave them quick answers. She herself admitted that she was often a little too quick, that her approach tended to be “ready, fire, aim.” She would sometimes make decisions without all the facts, or would run off to solve non-problems, embarrassing the people who actually had everything under control.

But that was not why I saw her as less than a great decision-maker. It was that other people were defining the decisions to be made as well as the alternatives. It’s so easy to get caught up in the thicket of urgency, all those little decisions that are thrown at you every day and need answers right now. A great decision-maker examines problems, opportunities and goals and discovers the truly important decisions that need to be made. Those are the big questions that nobody is asking because we’re all inundated with the little ones. It’s easy to lull yourself into thinking that you are a powerful decision-maker when people are running into your office with petty problems and you are sending them out with advice.

Here’s another major difference between a decision-maker and a mere choice-maker. A choice-maker selects from the given alternatives. A decision-maker first asks, “What are we trying to accomplish?” All decisions are made in a context of needs and constraints, and the right choice for me might be the wrong choice for you. A decision-maker then asks,  “Are there other alternatives?” The obvious choices may not be the only, or even the best, options. A decision-maker visualizes the consequences of each alternative and balances the often-conflicting goals surrounding the choice. Only then does he or she make a choice.

Here are the seven steps of effective decision-making. Notice that making a choice is way down at number 6.

  1. Discover the decision to be made
  2. Set a deadline to decide and to act
  3. Identify the full range of goals and constraints
  4. Identify the full range of alternatives
  5. Visualize the consequences of each alternative
  6. Choose the best alternative
  7. Act on your decision

I’ll have to admit that my colleague was good at number 7.

I’ll be talking more about these steps in the posts to follow.

Take charge of your decisions and your life. Live intentionally.

How do you handle decisions? I’d love to hear from you.

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