How many times have you looked back at an important decision that didn't turn out well and wondered, “What the heck was I thinking?!” One of the most important jobs of every leader is making timely, effective decisions. Here are three techniques that you can apply to improve the quality of your decisions.
One of the leading causes of bad decision-making is misunderstanding during meetings. What you thought you said and what people hear are often very different. To address this disconnect, get in the habit of checking for listening accuracy. After introducing a new idea you might say, “These are important concepts, so I want to test for understanding. Can you please rephrase what I just said?” Or expand the discussion. “Did anyone hear it differently? What leads you to see it that way?”
It also helps to identify any gaps in understanding. Ask “Where was I unclear? Where did I not provide enough data? Where do I need to go into more detail?” If people don’t volunteer to respond, call on them. The last thing you want is everyone nodding their heads in agreement when they internally disagree.
Next, expose your thinking. When information is not readily available, the human brain makes up stuff to fill in the gaps. Exposing your thinking minimizes the stuff people make up and ensures they have the right information. It also eliminates having to go back and talk about the same things over and over, or correct actions taken when people thought they agreed but actually were miles apart.
To expose your thinking, state your assumptions and describe the data that led to them. For example, “Here’s what I think and here’s the data that led me to this.” Then provide more detail. “Based on our previous experience in this area, I assumed…..” Finally, explain the consequences or outcomes of your thinking. “I came to this conclusion because….and here’s what it means to this team.”
Thirdly, test your conclusions before making any decisions. Too often, ideas are presented and accepted without constructive debate. Testing your conclusions draws out ideas and opinions from people who might otherwise hesitate to speak up. It models how to listen to feedback without going into a defensive mode. And it leads to critical issues getting explored at a much deeper level. "We don’t know for sure where the market is headed, so I’m guessing a bit on these numbers.” Then ask for feedback on your data and assumptions. “Now that you understand where I’m I’m coming from, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you have different data? Do you think the data can be interpreted differently?” Make sure ALL viewpoints are expressed. “It seems like most of you agree, but I want to hear from everyone. Who sees it differently?”
These techniques may feel uncomfortable at first because they slow down the decision-making process. You’ll feel a bit like you are trying to jog through quicksand. Better to slow down just a little and get it right than do it over!