Developing Confidence in Informed Decision Making

By Janis Richman posted 08-29-2017 13:43


Have you ever noticed that most confident decision makers know exactly what they want to accomplish?  They also seem to have done their homework.  There are many decision making processes out there that one can follow – from 2 steps to 10. But what they all have in common are three essential elements:

  1. Know what you want to achieve
  2. Do your homework
  3. Ask great questions

Know what you want to achieve

So how do you have confidence in the outcome? You need to start with a crystal clear vision of the decision to be made as well as the objectives or outcome you want to achieve. A wishy-washy idea of what you want to happen will keep you going in circles -- and you will quickly lose confidence.  A clear goal allows you to identify your criteria and then confidently weigh what you know against that. 

Do your homework

Good information is the essential building block of any decision.  Each piece of information will lead you towards a better understanding of the issues. Gather information from multiple sources so that you can go forward feeling “well informed.”  One thing to remember is you don’t need every piece of the puzzle in order to get a pretty good sense for what the picture looks like. And, don’t wait for that “magical” piece of information that will suddenly illuminate your understanding.

Ask great questions

So how do you get the right information? Ask great questions — questions that can be answered through research or by asking others.

“Asking more of the right questions reduces the need to have all the answers.”

- Donald Peterson former CEO of Ford Motor Company

The point of asking questions is to gain perspective and understand the perspectives of others. As you more clearly see the issues, you expand the range of possible solutions. How many times have you jumped straight into the solutions to a problem, only to realize later that, if you had first asked questions and listened, you could have come up with much better answers?

Asking questions can define the problem as well as lead to a clear vision of the issues involved.  AND… you will begin to notice more self-confidence as people you question show respect for you and your questions.  

“Effective problem solving requires an environment that allow for and encourages people to ask “fresh” questions. Focus on generating questions and look for the right questions to start with, rather than jumping directly to find right answers.  The right questions will lead us to the right answers.”

- Leading with Questions by Michael Marquardt

Thoughtful and probing questions improve the odds of making good decisions. When you talk to the people who are most affected by the decisions you are making, you can gather more relevant information, gain better perspective, and be able to act more confidently than if you relied solely on your own resources, opinions, and perceptions.

Your questions should be crafted to elicit information you can turn into options. For instance, if your goal or outcome was to identify ways to make people more efficient in the use of technology and the firm more profitable, you would use evocative questions to find out where there are inefficiencies. The kinds of questions you might ask are:

  • Where are you seeing breakdowns?
  • What impact is this having on the firm?
  • How might this be affecting clients?
  • How might this be affecting profitability

The information you gather shapes the criteria you will use to decide on the best solutions. The more you know about a person, situation or condition, the more confidence you will have in weighing your options.

Ask evocative, non-directive questions.  When we are gathering information, it’s very easy to ask “yes/no” questions.  A yes/no question can stop the questioning process in its tracks.  When asking questions, you want to ask the “when,” “how,” “what” questions so that you allow for the maximum flow of information.  Also, you want to craft your “why” questions carefully so as not to intimidate the person you are questioning.

Don’t state your opinion in the form of a question…  One of the quickest ways to stop the flow of fresh information is by asking “Don’t you think” questions. Additionally, beware of the multiple choice questioning technique as well.  When you think you already know the answer to an evocative question, it’s tempting to follow the question with what you think the answer should be.  While providing alternatives when someone seems stuck on an answer may be necessary, wait until they are truly stuck before giving them a multiple choice quiz.

The more you become adept at asking questions, the more confidence you will have in the information you gather and knowing when you have enough to make a decision. There are many other ways you can build your confidence in making decisions and a host of issues that can prevent or limit good decision making which are not covered in this blog.  But the most practical and surefire way to a confident start is by following these three essential steps.

  1. Know what you want to achieve
  2. Do your homework
  3. Ask great questions

By the way, don’t undervalue your intuition or “gut feeling.”  After all the questions have been asked and the facts are evaluated, it can be the final factor in your decision. Sometimes it may be all you have to go by.

How to be a Goal-Based Business Partner