Decision making is simultaneously the best skill you can learn, and the hardest skill to actually master.
You can take classes in a number of different areas of business, from finance to client relationship management, and there’s a specific set of knowledge you can acquire to become adept in those areas.
When it comes to decision making, there are specific skills you can learn to aid you, such as drawing out pro/con lists or doing exhaustive research, but ultimately, the choice has a degree of personal subjectivity to it.
Over the course of my career, I’ve encountered a diversity of different types of decision makers who range in both experience and education.
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What I’ve found is that people inherently make decisions somewhat consistently, according to what “type” of decision maker they are:
1. The Gut Instinct Follower
The gut instinct follower is arguably the simplest decision maker on this list, but that doesn’t mean this is a bad way to make decisions.
When confronted with two possibilities and a handful of information on each, the instinct follower will generally form an immediate impression, and side with wherever that impression lands.
On the surface, this may seem like a faulty or superficial way to make decisions, but the human brain is programmed to make snap judgments, and it’s pretty good at it.
With enough experience, this can actually prove to be a better way to make decisions because it’s fast, and it spares you the possible misleading nature of outside information.
How can the instinct follower thrive? With more experience. The more decisions you make (and the more you see pan out), the better you’ll get at intuiting the “better” decision in a given pair.
2. The Interviewer
The interviewer doesn’t like to make decisions alone. When confronted with a tough choice, even if she’s leaning one way or the other, she’ll seek out alternative opinions and perspectives almost compulsively.
She’ll ask her top advisors, her peers, her employees, and maybe even her friends and family what they think about the matter.
This doesn’t mean she lets other people make decisions for her, but she does factor in their insights and opinions to a significant degree.
The key for the interviewer to thrive as a decision maker is to start asking the opinions of the right people. You can’t listen to just anybody, try to find people who have been in this exact situation in the past, and see what they have to offer.
It also pays to ask the right questions; instead of focusing on which decision a person would make in your shoes, ask why they would make it, and what factors they’re considering that you might not be.
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3. The Exhaustive Researcher
There are many similarities between the researcher and the debater (who I’ll cover next), the most prominent being a tendency to follow through the decision making process meticulously, and usually with research.
What makes the researcher unique, however, is the process. The researcher will continue to draw in new information about the situation from as many sources as possible, hoping to find some nugget of data that will lead him to a definitive conclusion.
For example, if trying to decide between two restaurants, he may dig deep into customer reviews and chef culinary histories before deciding.
The exhaustive researcher can benefit from expanding his research sources and acknowledging that no one piece of evidence will be enough to make any decision complete.
For example, he can seek out personal testimonials in addition to surface-level online research, and ultimately learn to rely on a gut instinct toward the end of the process, should no clear victor emerge.
4. The Objective Debater
Like I said, the debater is similar to the researcher in the sense that she will probably gather tons of information and research before settling on anything.
However, instead of trying to track down the one piece of information to settle the debate, the debater thrives on the back-and-forth.
This is the type of person who sketches out exhaustive pro/con lists, and tries to boil down the decision to a quantifiable level.
On the surface, the debater seems to be the most logical, and therefore the most effective decision maker in the bunch.
However, there are a handful of potential pitfalls to this approach.
For example, it’s almost impossible to compare any two decisions apples-to-apples; you’ll end up weighting some factors in ways that skew your leanings.
It’s hard to compensate for these, but the best way is to remain as distant as possible; try not to lean too heavily on your system, and understand that few decisions have an objectively better choice.
5. The Random Chance Submitter
Any of the above types of decision makers can become the type to rely on random chance if they have a hard enough time picking a clear winner among their possible options.
You might have done your research and evaluated the options carefully, but if you reach the point where there still isn’t a clear option, a coin flip is the way to go.
This isn’t the best way to make a decision, but it’s a decent enough standby, especially if you maximize your chances of success by only considering the worthwhile options to begin with.
I’d be lying if I said this model is rigid, or that everyone in the world neatly adheres to it, but it can help you better understand the methods you use to make decisions, and quite possibly, make you a better decision maker in general.
In fact, it’s more likely that you see shades of yourself in all these types of decision makers, even if you find yourself aligning to one more than the others.
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This is good; it means you’re open about the decision making process, or that you use different approaches for different situations.
The more willing you are to learn or adapt, the better decision maker you’re going to be.