How To Make A Hard Decision (With Examples)

By Amanda Covaleski
Jul. 21, 2022
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As little as you may like it, making difficult decisions is a necessity in both your personal and professional life. The good news is that decision-making is a skill that you can strengthen, so while your decisions may not get easier, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to make good ones.

In this article, you’ll learn the steps to making a difficult decision at work, how to make decisions faster, and other decision-making tips.

Key Takeaways

  • Giving yourself time to think, clarifying what you’re deciding on, and thinking through all of your options are key to making difficult decisions.

  • Talking to people you trust about the decision you have to make can be helpful.

  • Keep the decision in perspective and remember that not making a decision is a decision too.

How to Make a Hard Decision

How to Make a Hard Decision at Work

No matter what situation you need to make a decision about, you should approach it as a three-step process. Using these three steps to frame your process and approach to the problem will set you up to make the best decision.

Making your decision with a clear framework will not only keep you focused and on track, but it will also give you a method to refer to when you need to make a decision in the future. The more you use this process, the more natural it will feel, and you’ll be making great decisions in no time once you’re used to it.

  1. Give yourself time to think. Hard decisions are challenging, and to properly address them, you’ll need to set aside some time to think. Reflecting on the problem you’re presented with and giving it enough thought will pay off in the long run.

    You don’t want to miss an opportunity or misunderstand your challenge by not thinking it through before you start problem-solving. It’s a good idea to break up your time and revisit your decision a few times before you move onto the next step.

    Spreading out your thinking time lets you reevaluate your options, and you might get more information over a few days.

  2. Be clear about your problem. Once you’ve thought about the decision you need to make, you need to be clear on what you’re making a decision about. Ensure you understand what decision you need to make and what problem or challenge you need to solve or overcome.

    You should also think about everything that relates to your decision. Will you need to change your life based on what you decide? Will your decision affect other people?

  3. Think through all of your options. It’s a good idea to write down all of the possible outcomes you come up with, even if you don’t think they’ll be a good solution. Taking time to think through every possibility will help you come up with the best one.

    If you consider every decision you could make, you’ll be able to sort out the bad ones from the good ones, and you’ll have a great list of possible solutions ready to go. After you do this, you can make your decision, or you can consult other people and get their input.

5 Ways to Make Tough Decisions Faster

While our three-step decision-making process is an excellent way to make sure you make the best decision, it isn’t always a speedy process. We’re going to give you a few more tips on how to make your decisions quickly (but still rationally and well-thought-out).

  1. Consult others. Sometimes relying on your own brain to see all possible outcomes takes a while. Asking other people how they would approach the decision or what they would do in your shoes can help.

    You can get their help with finding solutions or even just talk it out with another person. Sometimes speaking your thoughts out loud enables you to see things from a new perspective or reevaluate your process.

  2. Know yourself. You might be hoping that one of your options is what ends up being the best decision. Even if you’re not sure why you like that option, pay attention to what results you’re hoping for. It can be a good way to tell what you really want and where you should be heading.

    Knowing what you want out of your decision can be one of the best guides since the decision will ultimately impact you the most.

  3. Try a test. Is there a way you can test out the results of your decision before you make it? If you can test out the outcomes before you officially decide, it might help you settle on a better decision.

    For example, if you need to choose a supplier to work with, is there a way to get a sample of their product or a test run? Not only will this help you decide, but it will help you back up your reasoning and support your final decision when you share it with others.

  4. Trust your gut. Sometimes we instinctively know what we should do, but then we worry that the first solution can’t be the right one. You might not want to just go with the first idea you have, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to your instinct and consider the merits of your knee-jerk reaction. Don’t throw away your first idea and come back to it after looking at other solutions.

  5. Get advice. Sometimes you need more than just a sounding board, and you want some advice. Find a colleague or a friend and see what ideas they have. You can pick someone familiar with the decision you need to make, or you can find someone with no knowledge.

    Both have their pros since you can pick the brain of someone who knows your problem, or you can get a completely objective opinion that you might not have thought of from someone who isn’t familiar.

More Decision Making Tips

If you’re still stuck after running through those processes, you can try out some of these tips.

  • Do something rather than nothing. If you’re not sure where to start your decision-making process, find a way to do something instead of putting off the decision. You can just consider the issue at hand or people you can turn to, but the sooner you start on your decision making, the better off you’ll be.

  • Know your end goal. Try approaching the problem from the reverse perspective and think about what you want your outcome to be with this decision.

    What’s the best result of your decision? Can you work backward to find what decision will lead to that outcome?

  • Look backward. Have you had to make a difficult decision before? Thinking back to other times you’ve had to make a hard decision and how you ultimately came to your choice is an excellent way to get your mind in the right place.

    What obstacles did you overcome? What was your thought process? Does anything from that decision help you make this new decision?

  • Don’t be afraid. You might be hesitant because you’re worried about the impacts of your decision. It’s natural to be afraid, but you shouldn’t let it rule your decision-making process.

  • Use your head and your heart. Instead of relying on just your rational thoughts or your emotional reaction to a problem, see if you can use both instincts to find a good solution. Listening to your thoughts and your feelings might help you find the best options.

  • Take a break. Sometimes you need some headspace and time away from working through your decision. Don’t be afraid to take a break and come back to your decision later. You might come back with a refreshed mind, ready to come up with new possibilities.

  • Don’t overthink. It’s possible to spend too much time thinking about your options and trying to come up with new possibilities. Sometimes what you come up with first is a good option, or you already have a great solution in mind; you just think it would be too easy to go down that path.

    Overthinking can hold you up in the long run, though you do need to take your decision seriously.

  • Let fate decide. If you have decision paralysis and you’re stuck between a few options, you can do a little test. Write down your options on paper and fold them up, then pick one at random.

    If you found yourself hoping for one option over the other or feel disappointed by what you chose, it could be a sign that you do know which option you really want. Even if you don’t get an emotional response to your choice, you’ll at least have a good option that was picked fairly.

  • Know your strengths. Knowing what you’re good at can help you arrive at a decision. Maybe you’re good at being decisive, or perhaps you’re good at thinking through things thoroughly. Leverage your skills for making your decision, and you’ll find that it’s easier to arrive at a choice.

Examples of How to Make a Decision at Work

Here are some examples of these decision-making principles in action.

Example 1: Choosing a Major

Sam is going into her sophomore year of college and needs to declare a major. She is interested in both biology and chemistry and can’t decide which she wants to do. To help her make her decision, she talks with her guidance counselor, who shows her what her degree plan and career options would look like for each one.

Sam realized that she would rather work with people or animals than in a lab, and her guidance counselor told her that pursuing a degree in chemistry would likely send her on a career path where she’d work in lab-based research.

Thanks to her knowing this about herself and the input from her advisor, she decided to choose biology.

Example 2: Choosing a New Manager

John is a high-level manager, and one of the team managers under him is leaving the company. John needs to decide whether he should promote one of his employees to fill the position or hire someone from the outside.

He set aside some time in his schedule so he could think undisturbed and met with a few of his peers who had gone through similar situations to hear their perspectives.

He realized that the main decision he needed to make was if any of his employees were qualified for the role. Since they had all been hired less than a year earlier and had minimal previous experience, he decided they were not qualified. So, the decision was made: He would go with the outside hire.

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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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