As the saying goes, there are no bad decisions – just bad decision-making processes. I recently experienced this firsthand and watched, almost like an objective observer, as my poor decision-making process directly led to a poor decision.
For context, I’ve got a pretty sensitive digestive and GI track, and as a result, what to eat on a day-to-day basis and what to order at a restaurant drives daily discussions, internal deliberation, and scrutiny.
On a recent boys trip and visit to a restaurant, I did my normal menu-scan, identified the all-too-familiar symbol indicating gluten-free, read the description for any other culprits that could negatively affect me, and made my decision. Easy peasy. I’ve done this exact thing countless times.
Or so I thought.
I got distracted by a shiny object – the same shiny menu item my friends were ordering – and it sounded amazingly delicious! I couldn’t resist – I had to have it. And in that very moment, I objectively observed my decision-making process turn to shit (no pun intended… or maybe).
As one of my clients often says, my ‘monkey mind’ started swinging from vine to vine, jumping up and down, and before I knew it, the words ‘I’ll have that too’ deftly left my mouth and onto the waiter’s pad. Done. The decision was made. And it was a bad one. A decision I lamented throughout the remainder of the night and into the next morning. Indigestion. Belly ache. Feeling like I could vomit. Almost unable to move, sinking in the coach, and groaning.
In case you’re hung up on the semantics of bad decision-making or bad decisions, they’re inextricably connected – one doesn’t happen with the other.
If we don’t follow our tried and true processes, they can often enough lead to bad decisions.
Let’s also acknowledge that a ‘bad’ decision or decision-making process at the restaurant was not that consequential for me.
However, earlier in my career and life – I wasn’t that lucky. Many of my worst decisions were the direct result of a horrendous and self-sabotaging decision-making process.
My 8-step process for sound decision-making
As a Leadership Coach, I hear and watch poor decision-making processes play out on the regular. We’re all affected by a myriad of challenges – our insecurities and egos, self-protection, job security, other people’s influences and projection of their shit onto us – these are the biggest reasons our processes are thrown off-kilter and lead to less-than-ideal decisions.
It dawned on me that very few people talk about how they come to decisions. For this blog installment, I’d like to introduce a process that I’ve learned through years of experience in coaching, corporate America, and my own life’s trials and tribulations.
An important callout before we proceed, the words that follow reflect when life gives us all the time in the world, and the decisions can be made with patience, evaluation, and deliberation. I’m sure we’d all agree that life doesn’t always allow us that luxury, and I fully understand that. Think of the following as another way to approach your current decision-making process, and then decide whether it’s worth your consideration to implement these ideas into your own process.
Step 1 – Are you even open to exploring this?!
Before we/you can even begin to determine your own process, you have to be willing to explore it and be open to possible change and modification. If not, stop reading immediately. If you’re game to learn more, I got you.
Step 2 – How aware are you of your insecurities?
As I’ve written about in the past I used to live with a deep sense of insecurity – and didn’t even know it! In turn, many of my actions and decision-making were directly tied to overcoming or mitigating that deep insecurity.
When the decisions we make are directly tied to overcoming, masking, or protecting ourselves from realizing that deep insecurity, we often act and behave defensively, our decisions are tunnel-visioned and singularly focused on protecting ourselves, and we often miss the big picture and all the other clues and cues around us.
Without knowing it, the earlier Darren made decisions that were pointed, aggressive, arrogant, and defensive – all with the sole purpose of making me feel worthy. And remember, I didn’t even know I was doing this!!
So my decision-making often went something like – attack! It’s getting too close to my nerve of insecurity. Protect! And then counterattack. Sometimes my decisions were reckless, like the time I knowingly engaged in a political work battle that I knew at the time I’d lose. I deliberately and with full faculty walked into a fatal battle, and sure enough – I got slaughtered! Why? All to protect my fragile ego.
Bottom line, if you’re fooling and BS’ing yourself about your insecurities, shortcomings, and weaknesses, your decision-making will almost surely be focused, knowingly or not, on protecting yourself. In these instances, our creativity, openness, collaboration, and empathy are on life-support and barely doing anything to help.
Step 3 – Insecurity Mitigation
For me, the most effective way to mitigate my insecurities is by using Positive Intelligence (PQ). I’m a certified Positive Intelligence Coach and can’t speak more highly about its impact. If you’re interested in Positive Intelligence, you can learn more here.
Whether PQ is your thing or not, I strongly encourage everyone to conduct a deep dive into their psyche and how they show up in the world.
I won’t spend much more time here and yet, if you don’t figure out how to mitigate your insecurities, they will continue to rear their ugly heads and continue to thwart your progress from being the leader and the person you always knew you could be.
As a quick sidebar, I’m sure you realized the above 3 steps don’t speak directly to a process of how to make better decisions, and I fully recognize that. In my first and secondhand experience, unless you openly acknowledge, accept, and mitigate the internal thoughts that hold you back (ie: your insecurities), even the most effective decision-making process will fail you when those all-too-familiar insecurities show themselves. What this typically means is that you might be on a great path, walking the straight and narrow, so to speak, and undoubtedly, at some point, something will touch that nerve of insecurity, and BAM! You fall back into bad habits.
Let’s return to the regularly scheduled programming….
Step 4 – What needs to be decided and why?
With any effective process, we need some information to guide us. For our decision-making process, we need to understand the decision we’re faced with and why it’s important. These are often the 2 questions that require answers for my clients, and myself, before proceeding.
This is the guide that will drive what comes next.
In my restaurant story, I needed to decide what to eat because I was starving and hadn’t had a meal in like 8 hours. I also needed to account for my dietary considerations.
For my clients, they often have to decide what strategic direction to take their team or the company, whether to terminate an underperforming team member or provide them coaching and professional development, how to address a recurring interpersonal challenge with a peer, whether to stay with their current company or find a new job, how to improve the relationship with their spouse, parents, or children – and the list goes on.
Step 5 – What’s my gut and internal dialogue say?
Sometimes a gut or intuitive decision is a great move. Other times… not so much. Sometimes engaging in the mental back and forth of internal discussions leads us down one path or another. Either way, in the best decision-making processes, we have to do our best to be aware of what our gut is saying. What can we discern from that sense within us? Is it saying anything at all?!
For me, many, MANY times, my gut told me I needed to apologize for my actions and poor decision-making. However, my ego and insecurities sometimes wouldn’t allow me to do so. In my most lucid times I observed this verbal ping-pong match play out – you should apologize dude. The hell I should – they wronged me in some way that poked at my insecurity; I can’t let them know. But dude – you’re not acting honorable, and that decision you made sucked. Too bad – you can not and will not apologize. Sigh!
Recognizing your gut reaction and internal discussions is where one typically begins the deliberation process, identifies and explores options, starts to play out possible outcomes, and assesses effective or ineffective (in essence, good or bad – will this option help or hurt me).
As you engage in this natural selection process, you’ll also start realizing some of these options are true possibilities and begin crossing the other options off the list because they are not contenders for moving forward.
Step 6 – Who needs to weigh in?
In some cases, it’s helpful to seek other people’s input. Maybe your best friend went through something similar and you’re curious what they think. Maybe you have a great Coach that offers valuable insight. Maybe your mom or dad is your go-to person on this sorta thing. Whoever your person or people are, get their input and see how that affects and influences your thought process. Sometimes their thoughts and input further strengthen your resolve – even if they think differently. Sometimes their thoughts and input help us recognize the folly in what we’re thinking. Either way, trust that you know the best people to help and ask them
On the flip side, sometimes we need to delve deeper within ourselves to get the help we need. Within my brain, I’ve got lots of characters. Do you? I have an abrupt, brash, and vulgar NY’er. I have an empathetic character that is often my voice of reason. I have a regal character – like a King – that rules from a place of global knowing. I have a ‘fuck it’ character that, well, says ‘fuck it’.
Those are just a few of my characters. Sometimes, when I’m going through my decision-making process, I feel I’m being too soft or too aggressive. Based on that evaluation, I’ll call in those voices within me and explore what it would be like to make a decision from their perspective and then play it out.
Who are the characters in your mind? How do you involve their specific and unique attributes in your decision-making?
Step 7 – Determine your top 3 options
Here’s where the rubber starts to meet the road. Steps 5 and 6 have a natural selection and weeding aspect to them. In this step, it’s time to determine the top choices.
If all goes to plan, you’ve explored and considered a bunch of options, stack-ranked them (so to speak), weeded out the bad ones, modified this one or that, and now it’s time to determine your top options. The rule of 3 applies well here – anything more could lead to decision fatigue and stop us in our tracks. 3 is the magic number.
Here’s where you ask yourself, ‘what are the 3 best possible decisions I could make?’. During this step you might still deliberate and debate, change things around, include this option now, and later remove it. There’s also no definitive timeframe other than what’s required for the decision at hand.
If you’re deciding whether or not to leave your job – you might decide to update your resume, talk to some of your business acquaintances, and explore the job market on some job boards.
If you’re deciding whether to offer someone professional development and coaching vs. termination – you might decide to conduct a SWAT analysis on what happens to their work if they leave, you might consider how their lack of productivity is affecting the broader team, and you might talk to HR to see what options are available to help this person.
I think it’s also important to consider what the decision actually is. For example, with what I’ve described related to your job, your decision to look at job boards doesn’t necessarily mean you will or won’t leave. Rather, it’s helping you determine how your findings will ultimately affect your decision to stay or leave. If the market is ripe, you might decide to aggressively pursue other work. If the market is sparse, you might decide to stay put for the next few months before testing the waters again.
Once you’ve decided on your best 3 options for a decision…..
Step 8 – Make your decision!
When it comes to making a decision, even not deciding IS a decision. It’s deciding to accept and continue with the status quo. Even though you might feel like ‘you had no choice’ – that’s rubbish! You are an empowered human! And empowered humans make empowered decisions.
If you hate your job and still show up to work – you’ve decided that being employed is the best-empowered choice for you to make.
If you’ve followed this or any process, you’ve explored your thoughts and gut, you’ve asked others for input, you’ve considered multiple options, and being an empowered and thoughtful human – you’ve arrived at the decision. Own it!
None of us have a crystal ball and we won’t know if we’ve made a good or bad decision until we have the gift of hindsight and the luxury of looking back. My hope for you is that you can look back to this inflection point – the very point when you made and acted on a decision, that you can recall the process and steps you took, and can rest assured that you made the best decision you could have made given the circumstances and all the things you knew at the time.
Here’s the thing, fellow decision-makers and shiny object enthusiasts, let’s not underestimate the power of our decision-making processes. As I learned the hard way during my ill-fated restaurant experience, a distraction can lead to a disastrous choice, even when we think we have our processes down pat.
But if you can lean into your process and know you honored yourself by taking the time to deliberate, even if it turns out to be a bad decision – at least you followed your process. By acknowledging our insecurities, mitigating them with a dash of Positive Intelligence, and listening to our gut (even when it grumbles about gluten), we can feel empowered that we made the best possible decision at the time.
And hey, if all else fails, gather your internal characters for a lively debate and trust your top three options.
Remember, decision-making is both an art and a science, and we’re all just doing our best with the information at hand. Cheers to making better choices and embracing the adventure of life, one decision at a time!