By Published On: 1-Sep-20184.2 min read
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Just because someone’s on the decision-making fence doesn’t mean the fence is comfortable, says Leadership & Performance Coach, Davina Greene.

Will I or won’t I? Should I or shouldn’t I? Can’t I just get someone else to make the decision instead?

Not questions that we want to hear a leader asking.

Why Can Decision-Making Be Difficult?

Every day, we have to make decisions, from tiny to giant. Some people find it easy, they barely realize they’re decision-making at all; some, however, find it cripplingly difficult to make an independent choice. For observers, it is all too easy to misunderstand their reasons and to become frustrated.

Inability, or unwillingness, to engage in decision-making can be rooted in multiple areas. As a manager, parent, or friend – or whatever the situation – unearthing reasons can take a little time and effort. The person could have a natural tendency towards over-thinking, for starters. Those people who value detail may suffer what we call ‘analysis paralysis’, drowning in depth rather than making leaps forward, perhaps seeking the perfect answer.

Poor time management, or lack of delegation, can leave minimal space for decision-making. Self-doubt can leave a person second-guessing themselves endlessly – a decision technically made, but never verbalized, endlessly internally tweaked. A conscientious person can hold fear of the impact of a bad decision, to varying levels of catastrophe.

And it doesn’t stop there…in this age of have-it-all entitlement, many people are simply reluctant to make trade-offs, desperately trying to find the path that allows all decisions to be made simultaneously and favorably. Many are afraid of annoying others and need consensus at the table, in the hope of pleasing all involved. There are plenty who hold a sense of ‘obedience’ to an authority figure, from their upbringing; the programmed ‘instruction-acceptors’ we’ve all encountered. Some people have been brought up to be over-polite, solo decisions now feeling somewhat ‘rude’.

Some people are given the wrong decisions to make – they may be put in a position of deciding something high-level and strategic, despite being unable (as yet) to think at that level, evaluating various outcomes. Many are too confident in their decision-making, and take excessive ownership of decisions, to the point where they forget, make poor ones, or even take excessive risk.

Then, of course, there are the people who have a lack of perspective about all of the elements of a decision, or a general lack of care about whether the decision is correct or not. Then, of course, there are many of us to love to swoop in and “fix” things for other people, never letting them actually learn, never helping solve the bigger issue.

How To Improve Decision-Making Skills

In workplaces that place great value on Learning – or when we, ourselves, invest in our own development through personalized coaching – we become aware of these angles and begin to appreciate where we fall on the scale, and why. We, and those around us, better understand matters of emotional intelligence, giving ourselves and others the opportunity to stretch into these skills. It’s important that adults feel able to do the vast majority of decision-making that falls to them in life. Sadly, some people can be left without this skill for too many years. So, whether it’s your work team, or outside of work, what can you do?

Firstly, note that stand-alone classes and books do very little to change actual decision-making behavior in this regard. This area is tied, in a way, to bravery; it needs personal support. For formal learning, coaching is absolutely key.

Second, make sure that the person understands the strategy or principles within which they are expected to move forward. This introduces some safety-related boundaries, allowing people to know whether their decision-making is heading in the right direction without constant reference to you.

Finally, make sure the person is clear on what they absolutely do not make a decision on alone. Again, this increases their sense of safety by drawing a line while permitting escalation. Above all, be patient and don’t be too dogged about what you think the decision should have been. As someone once said: Sometimes you make the right decision; sometimes you make the decision right. There’s very little in life that can’t be fixed, however important you believe it to be.

Decision-Making: Points to Consider

  • Remember, people avoid decisions for many reasons. Be kind, and try to investigate and understand – not assume.
  • Consider if you’re asking someone to make a decision in an area less suited to their experience – Strategy versus Detail, Process versus People, etc.
  • As much as decision-making needs freedom, it needs boundaries. Provide them.
  • Resist fixing everything for everyone; sit back and watch their thought process, in order to help. Think longer-term.
  • Use coaching to get real change!


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About the Author

Davina Greene, leadership and performance coach

Davina Greene has a Masters in business from Dublin City University, is a Leadership & Performance Coach, and a corporate Head of Leadership Coaching, providing in-person and digital solutions for individuals and organisations.

Connect with her