How Deciding Can Lead to Self-Understanding

By Phyllis Smith

Have you ever thought about how you make decisions? Would you categorize yourself as indecisive, an overthinker or impetuous? Behind those big words is actually a science of decision-making styles. The Women Inspiring Women call in May delved deeper into the distinct ways we all approach decisions, led by Ellen Miller CEO of MPowered – Management and Leadership Development Services. Her talk was based on the work of Cheryl Straus Einhorn of Cornell University. 

On the call, I learned the awesome fact that we make over 35,000 decisions a day. When I heard that I wondered why I wasn’t always exhausted at the end of each day, but then Ellen went on to say that the majority of those decisions are made automatically without direct thinking. On the other hand, the remaining decisions are the larger ones where I would tend to struggle over them or revisit after I had made them. 

The key to navigating the trickier decisions in my life is understanding how I think. If I can recognize my unconscious biases and my blind spots, I can make more effective decisions. 

Learning about the 5 distinct decision-making styles

Adventurer – Makes decisions quickly and confidently. 

Detective – Relies on facts and previous knowledge. 

Listener – Bases decisions on input from others. 

Thinker – Researches every possible angle before deciding. 

Visionary – Dreams big and wants to innovate. 

I decided I am a Detective with a side of Listener—a spicy mix of facts and emotions. I do base a lot of my decisions on things I know. In addition to this, I like to pride myself on knowing a lot of things! That being said, I also like to ask for input and review other people’s opinions. I’m one who jumps on yelp or TripAdvisor whenever I need a recommendation.  

Using the power of the group

I have always loved working with cross-functional teams in my years in software. The synergy all the different roles brought to the final product was so exciting and rewarding. Looking back on some of the more critical decisions we worked through, especially the question of whether something which met the two of the three criteria for software: High Quality; On Time; Under Budget. When we would have our Go/No Go discussion, sometimes the answer wasn’t clearly “Go.” 

I realize now that all members of my team brought a different decision-making style to the questions. It made some of the conversations – and the decision – difficult of course, but ultimately knowing how people’s brains work will help in the future when I’m leading a group to make a key decision. 

How I decide the big things

Recently, I’ve been looking for a side-hustle. Some paid activity to help augment my writing efforts. A company recently accepted my application. As I started down the path of the interview process, my thought processes illuminated the many ways I work through decisionsEllen suggested writing down your thoughts to show any patterns. I crafted the table below to show my thinking about taking the job. 

Default Thought Process 

Decision-Making Type 

Unconscious Bias 

Positive Quality 

Feels right. Go for it! 

Adventurer 

Optimism 

Confident 

Good company. Salary is within my desired range. 

Detective 

Confirmation 

Realistic 

They really want me. 

Listener 

Authority 

Trusting 

There might be a better opportunity out there. I should keep looking. 

Thinker 

Risk aversion 

Thorough 

This job could be my destiny. 

Visionary 

Scarcity 

Imaginative 

Who is actually doing the deciding?

What a helpful exercise! I did not realize I had an authority bias until I did this analysis. Ellen mentioned that your decision-making type was formed through your environment. For instance, I think I’ve always prided myself on my ability to go along to get along. Don’t make waves. Be a “good girl.” These responses are ingrained in the decisions I make every day for sure, but calling out that reaction helps identify where the default “I’ll do what you want” behavior is not appropriate or in my best interest. Hence this explains my affinity for the review sites—I like hearing what other people think but in fact, I am looking to be told what is the right thing to do. 

Looking for answers when I already know them

The confirmation bias is a little more complex to figure out how that comes into play. I don’t think I make decisions based on things I already know, but google defines it as: 

“The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories”

In that way, the criteria of “It’s a good company and the salary is within range” doesn’t really enforce my decision about the company. If the opportunity did not have those qualities, I would not have applied in the first place!  

Looking at the big picture brings clarity

I never expect decision-making around the big choices in my life to come easy. Understanding my default patterns, especially those reactions that come from a blind spot in my thought processes, is invaluable to adding confidence in the process and, most especially, the outcome. Additionally, discovering what truly inspires you can ignite motivation and bring clarity to your goals, guiding you through challenges with a renewed sense of purpose. 

If these styles resonate with you, I encourage you to look into your own styles and peel back what might be behind some of your initial or strongest reactions to challenges. 

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