How Do You Decide?

If you’re facing a complicated decision, how do you go about it? As with any other part of your life, you probably have patterns that have been established for years, maybe even since you were a child. Cheryl Strauss Einhorn is the founder and CEO of Decisive, a decision sciences company using her AREA Method decision-making system for individuals, companies, and nonprofits looking to solve complex problems.

Strauss Einhorn has studied decision making for years, and she says even if your style is working for you, breaking out of your pattern can provide you new insight and help you view problems from an angle that might result in different – and better – choices.

This is especially true if your style isn’t working for you. We’ve all met people who struggle with decisions. “Analysis Paralysis” is common among deliberate and thorough thinkers. Regret is common among those who impulsively leap for the first or easiest choice. And those who seek out others’ input can be stuck in a loop, since you may get twenty different answers from the twenty people you ask.

Here is Strauss Einhorn’s advice for understanding the psychology of your decision making and the mental mistakes or cognitive biases that might tend to get in your way.

The first step in making better decisions is to understand your style. She breaks people down into five different decision-making archetypes, which she calls Problem Solver Profiles (PSPs). As she describes in my book Problem Solver: Maximizing Your Strengths to Make Better Decisions, “these PSPs are personal approaches to decision making that are built from our individual strengths and weaknesses.”

Here are the five PSPs, in her words:.

  • Adventurer: You make decisions quickly and trust your gut. When faced with a challenge, big or small, you’d rather do what feels right than spend your valuable time thinking through all the choices. You know who you are and what you want — so you aren’t afraid to go get it.
  • Detective: You value information and are always looking for facts and data. You don’t decide based on how you feel — you want to see what the evidence says. You believe that the more you learn and soak in the details, the better you’ll do.
  • Listener: You’ve got a whole village of people in your life whom you trust and who support you. When you are faced with a challenging situation or a complex decision, you rely on these people, asking for their input and opinions. You feel comfortable knowing you don’t have to decide by yourself.
  • Thinker: You are thoughtful, resisting the pressure to make quick decisions. You carefully weigh options, wanting to understand the positives and negatives of each. You don’t need a lot of data, but you do need the time and headspace to feel like you have both a reason for the choice you’re making and a rationale for why it makes sense. Speed is not your goal; process is.
  • Visionary: You don’t want to settle for the ordinary, and you like to go your own way. When faced with a clear set of options, you’re more interested in finding a different one, preferably one that hasn’t yet occurred to others. You keep everyone guessing — and often, you surprise those around you with your decisions.

You may find that you’re using a couple of styles in combination (I tend toward Adventurer/Visionary.) But generally, Strauss Einhorn says, you’ll rely primarily on one style. Once you understand how you decide, you can work with your strengths and prepare to counter the inherent weaknesses of your style.

Strauss Einhorn writes: “There’s no question that each of these archetypes comes with great strengths — but strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin. Each PSP is also associated with a set of cognitive biases that can impede effective decision making. Fortunately, you can avoid these pitfalls.” In a future post, I’ll discuss what she says to look out for with your PSP.

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