The Most Important Decision-Making Skills (With Examples)

By Amanda Covaleski - May. 17, 2021
Skills Based Articles

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Decision-making is one of the most important skills you can have. You make decisions every day for various functions, from personal to professional, and consistently making good decisions can only help your career. Let’s take a look at what good decision-making skills are, plus a few workplace and professional examples.

What Are Decision-Making Skills?

Decision-making skills are about your ability to choose a good option out of two or more alternatives. As a type of problem-solving skill, there are three main ways to approach decision-making: using intuition, reasoning, or a combination of both.

  • Intuition is your default response, or the gut feeling you get when presented with a problem or decision to make. This first reaction comes from a combination of things you’ve learned, experiences you’ve had, and opinions you hold, so everyone’s intuition is different.

    Using intuition means basing your decision on your lived experiences, so it can be subjective.

  • Reasoning, on the other hand, is rooted in data. You reason when you use the data available to you and only base a decision off of facts and figures instead of your instinctive reaction. This is a more objective way to come to a decision and it’s usually how bigger decisions are made.

  • Both. Typically, decisions are made with both intuition and reasoning. Using both is a good way to check and make sure your choice is logical.

    Since we make decisions all the time, we usually don’t stop to think about whether we should make an intuition-based or reason-based decision. Instead, we naturally use a combination of the two.

Decisions are largely about intuition and reasoning, but other skills come into play too. If you’re good at making decisions, then you’re also good at a host of other skills required to come to a logical choice.

Reasoning, processing information, using intuition, asking questions, analyzing potential outcomes, and more are all required to make a good decision. Employers look for good decision-making skills since it encapsulates so many other necessary skills to thrive in a professional environment.

The Decision-Making Process

Effective decision-makers use a seven-step process to tackle decision-making. While it’s not necessary to go through these exact steps when you make a basic decision, like what to cook for dinner, it can be a great way to check your thinking as you make a big work decision, like which strategy will lead to better sales.

  1. Identify the problem. First, you need to see the decision that you need to make and understand what will go into making that decision. This step is crucial since everything else builds upon what you do here.

    Make sure you properly understand the situation, what’s being asked of you, and what tools you have available to you before moving to the next step.

  2. Do some digging. For any decision you’ll need some background information to help you choose the right option. Sometimes this means just thinking back to details from meetings, or it can be doing more sophisticated research. You can step one to help you identify what information you’ll need to make a good decision.

  3. Think creatively. In this step you want to think of as many solutions as possible. It doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad, you just want to consider all of your options.

    Feel free to be as creative in your thinking as you want with this step. There are no bad options here since you want to think of every possible outcome. You’ll have a chance to check all of your brainstormed options later.

  4. Evaluate your options. Here’s the part where you’ll give all your potential outcomes a second check. Go through the list of solutions you came up with in step three and test which ones feel better or sound more logical to you.

    Don’t forget to keep your end goal in mind when you consider all the choices. That way you’re sure to make a good decision.

  5. Make the decision. It’s time to pick one of the options you came up with. Keep in mind that you can choose a solution you came up with or even combine solutions to make the best decision possible. Reflect back on your process for step four and pick the decision you feel best about.

  6. Act on your decision. Once you’ve decided what to do, you need to start taking the actions that will help you implement the decision. These can be big or small steps, but stay focused and resolved to get the job done.

    Don’t be afraid to bring other people into your process in this step. Especially for large workplace decisions, you might want to call on your coworkers to help you get things done.

  7. Look back. When your decision is made and you’ve had some time to see its effects, take a second to evaluate that decision. Think about whether the decision had the outcome you wanted it to, or if it wasn’t so successful.

    Taking this time to reflect on your decision-making is a great way to not only improve your ability to make a good decision, but also to learn more about yourself. You can even ask other people for their opinion on the effects of a decision to see how your perception of the impact lines up with others’ opinions.

Types of Decision-Making Skills

Decision-making is such an important skill since it requires many other key skills in order to be a good decision-maker. Let’s take a look at other skills you can build to help you make the best decisions.

  1. Problem-solving. The number one skill you need to be an effective decision-maker is problem-solving. Since decisions are just a type of problem (determining which option is the best), having strong problem-solving skills is definitely an asset.

    If you approach a decision from a logical mindset, as if it were a problem to solve, odds are that the solutions you come up with and your final decision will be stronger.

  2. Collaboration. Decisions can’t always be made by one person. You need to have good collaboration and compromise skills to make the best decision sometimes when it involves a group.

    Even when you’re making a decision on your own, getting extra input from friends or coworkers can help you brainstorm the best outcome. Collaboration is your friend, both when you need to make a group decision and when you’re the one responsible for making the decision.

  3. Emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the ability to observe and understand your own emotions and the emotions of the people around you. Being able to take emotions into account will make you a stronger decision maker.

    Think of this as related to intuitive decision-making. It’s your ability to balance facts, figures, and emotions to come to a good decision.

  4. Logical reasoning. This skill is key for the middle steps of the decision-making process. Being able to fully evaluate and analyze your information, options, and decisions will make your decisions stronger.

    This skill is more closely related to reasoning, the side of decision-making that relies on facts and figures instead of on emotions.

More Decision-Making Skills

While the skills listed above are the key skills of decision-making — meaning you can’t make any decision without using those skills — there are many more that will help you sharpen your ability to make good decisions. Take a look at this list and see what you’re already good at and where you could improve.

  • Organization. Being organized can help you keep all of your background information, options, and other tools in order.

  • Time management. Making decisions in a timely manner isn’t just about making a quick, hasty decision. Managing your time to properly work through the seven steps is a skill that will put you above everyone else.

  • Leadership. When collaborating and making a group decision, someone needs to take charge and make sure the decision is implemented, which is when good leadership skills are needed.

  • Creativity. The more creative you are in your problem-solving, the better options and potential outcomes you’ll have to work with, as well as having creative ways to implement your decision.

  • Ethics. Making ethical decisions is a necessary skill to have, so knowing how to weigh the ethical pros and cons is key.

  • Research. The better research you can gather in the first steps of the decision-making process, the better prepared you’ll be to make a good decision.

  • Analysis. Having strong analytical skills will help you ensure that your decisions are logical and reasonable.

  • Flexibility. Quick-thinking and flexibility are your friends when it comes to making decisions since sometimes you’ll have to compromise or new constraints will pop up, changing how you approach a decision.

Examples of Decision-Making Skills

It’s easy to list skills that are required to make a good decision, but it can be hard to understand exactly when and how those skills will help you. Let’s take a look at some real-world workplace examples of decision-making and the skills required to tackle them effectively.

  • Choosing a manufacturer to supply the product you sell. You need to be able to evaluate all manufacturers and what they offer, then analyze their pros and cons to choose one.

  • Brainstorming potential names for a new product. You have to be creative in your thinking and be good at understanding what your boss and the consumers are looking for.

  • Comparing different candidates for a job opening or promotion. Evaluation and analytical skills will help you determine the best candidate depending on the job description and the candidates’ qualifications.

  • Evaluating where to cut spending. For a project of this size, you’ll need organization, time management, and strong reasoning skills.

  • Proposing the best way to boost sales. You’ll need good evaluation, analysis, and creative skills, plus more, to think of good ways to drive sales.

  • Choosing which employee or employees to lay off. Again, evaluation, comparison, and critical thinking skills are key here.

  • Deciding how bonuses will be given for the year. Strong analytical, financial, and reasoning skills are necessary for a decision like this.

There are many skills that go into good decision-making, but the most important skill you can have is knowing when and where to apply those smaller skills. Emotional reasoning or collaboration won’t always help you make a good decision. Knowing which skill you need will help you much more than just applying every single skill you have.

Just remember that good decision-making is much more than just learning new skills and applying them everywhere you can. Instead, think about what will help you the most in tackling a decision and constantly evaluate your performance in decision-making.

How to Improve Your Decision-Making Skills

Follow these tips to start improving your decision-making skills today:

  • Set good goals. Having your eye on the big picture is enormously helpful when it comes to decision-making. Someone can make all the right decisions, but if their ultimate goal is wrongheaded, then those great decisions don’t add up to anything useful.

    Plus, keeping broader goals in mind helps simplify the decision-making process. It’s easier to know how to reach a destination if you have a clear idea of what that destination is.

  • Reduce choice. Americans love options, but being inundated with too many potential choices can paralyze you. Before you begin making decisions, try to narrow down your possible choices to the top three.

  • Research. Decision-making isn’t easy when you don’t have all the facts in front of you. Good decisions are predicated on good data, so start working to improve your research skills. The greater your knowledge and expertise, the simpler most decisions become.

  • Communicate early and often. Communication skills complement decision-making skills well. Whether you’re seeking out advice or expressing a project’s goals, team members who understand each other get more done, more effectively.

  • Don’t analyze forever. The phrase “paralysis by analysis” is all too true. Don’t be afraid to make small decisions without 100% of the information you might need. A few minor failures can actually be helpful for generating better ideas. Start with the minimum viable solution, and iterate from there.

How to Highlight Your Decision-Making Skills While Job-Searching

If you’re applying for a role where decision-making is crucial, it’s essential to highlight your decision-making skills in your application materials. Namely, your resume and cover letter.

Read the job description carefully and look for words that indicate decision-making like:

  • Direct

  • Implement

  • Optimize

  • Spearhead

  • Analyze

  • Develop

There are countless other possible words, but regardless, look for ways to incorporate the same language from the job description into your resume and cover letter.

Let’s take a look at an example resume’s work experience section showcasing decision-making skills:

  • Saved Product team over $50k annually in materials costs by analyzing low ROI spends and rerouting funds to lucrative projects

  • Reduced accounting labor hours by 21% by automating payroll systems and creating streamlined tracking spreadsheets

  • Optimized virtual meeting schedule, netting an average of 3 hours of meetings saved weekly, while improving employee productivity by 6%

A cover letter should cover similar accomplishments where you leveraged your top-notch decision-making skills. However, you can go into more detail about one or two accomplishments, rather than briefly touching on them as you would in a resume.

For a job interview, it’s equally important to know what metrics your performance will be judged on. By showing that you’re already thinking of how to achieve the most important results, you’re painting yourself as a candidate with great decision-making abilities.

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Author

Amanda Covaleski

Amanda is a writer with experience in various industries, including travel, real estate, and career advice. After taking on internships and entry-level jobs, she is familiar with the job search process and landing that crucial first job. Included in her experience is work at an employer/intern matching startup where she marketed an intern database to employers and supported college interns looking for work experience.

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