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Growing as a Leader

August 11th, 2009

Need to Make a Tough Decision?

Are you confused about a decision you need to make? The following technique will help you get all your thoughts down in one place so that you can see the relative importance of each criterion and move closer to a sound decision.

1. Identify a choice. Should I work with organization A? Should we invest in this training? Should I hire Mike?

2. Write this choice on the top of a piece of paper, i.e., “Going With Organization A.” Draw a line down the center of the sheet. On the left side, write a + (plus) sign, on the right note a – (negative) sign.

3. Under the positive sign, list all your reasons in favor of this choice. Do the same on right, only this time include your reasons against this choice.

  • Make sure you list your reasons, not only those someone else told you were important.
  • Try to include intuitive items too, not just facts
  • Try not to judge if a thought is important enough to consider. For example, if organization A doesn’t have adequate staff parking (even if you don’t have a car), note this on the negative side. Alternatively, if someone you met there impressed you, write, “Really liked the woman who is retiring this year.” You can always cross off extraneous items later.

4. When you capture all your thoughts, go back through the list and assign each of your reasons a numerical ranking. Use a one to ten scale, with one being “least important” and ten being “very important” to you.

This is where your discernment becomes important. For example, with organization A, you may give “limited parking” a one ranking because you don’t own a car.. However, you might rank this concern higher if the office location is far from public transportation and if you anticipate challenges running errands and attending off-site meetings.

5. Add up all the rankings in the positive column to find a total. Do the same for the negative issues. Compare the numbers. Usually these two totals are different enough to help you make a solid decision. Sometimes, despite what the numbers total, it will be clear now that only one criterion is vitally important. Use this revelation to guide your decision or rank this item a “25” and re-total your columns.

I have used this technique for more than a dozen years. Each time the results helped me organize my many thoughts about a choice and the relative importance of each factor. Rarely did the list of positive and negative totals come out equal. In these rare cases, I was advised to take the more challenging of the options. As Robert Frost said, “I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”