We all make decisions every day: from what to wear, case what to have for breakfast and whether to take an umbrella when we go out. Most of these take little thought and no agonising about what to do. Obviously there are relatively few consequences of any real significance arising out of these decisions. (Although I am always fascinated  by ‘sliding doors’ stories.. you know the ‘if I had turned left instead of right I would have never…..’)

Some major decisions are easily made as well, sometimes we are compelled into treading a certain path. The strength of our emotion may propel us into marriage, having children or into a divorce. The persuasiveness of other situations can mean that resolution comes swiftly: an offer that can’t be refused, a logic that can’t be denied or a case which cannot be refuted. Sometimes we are led by our hearts and sometimes by our heads; some people favour one more than other, some rely on one to the exclusion of the other. However modern neuroscience refutes that head and heart modes of decision making are opposed to each other but suggest that one feeds the other.

Decision making at work is somewhat different to personal decision making , there is less emotion to respond to, the personal consequences are possibly less, the offers or business cases more closely balanced. Stakeholders may have different aims, views or objectives. But in a business context there is often a time constraint, so however complex the decision  is, you just have to make one.

Making decisions about your career fall somewhere between the work (where the head  mode of decision making prevails, with business cases, matrices, and cost benefit analysis ) and personal decision making (where the heart can rule, emotion, gut feeling, instinct). There may be strong emotions at play: you may be frustrated in your current role or  feeling  you could achieve so much more. You may be hating your job because it is boring or dull. You may long to be famous or have a profound sense of your destiny, you may feel drawn towards a vocation. But those feelings may  have to be tempered because practical issues may prevent you, so how do you make decisions about a career?

In my practice I encourage people to use both their heads and their hearts. Using the ‘career niche’ model I encourage  people to really look at all the practical issues involved in making a career decision: location, qualifications, salary, responsibility, interests, skills, track record, knowledge and environment.  Exploring each of these dimensions  helps people to understand their opportunities and their constraints.  The understanding of ones self needs to be careful, thorough and approached through a range of different means. Looking at the past, at the highs and lows, the skills used and underused and the core drivers and motivations. It needs to be accompanied by research: research into what is out there, what jobs are there?  where do you find those opportunities? Can you create those opportunities?  what do you need to do them? This process is iterative and needs to generate options.

But having the options does not always help people know what to do. Sometimes whilst working through  the analysis process a lightbulb comes on; sometimes it does not.  So if we have a number (and two is number) of options available to us how can we make the best decision possible about which route to take?

The first thing to realise is there is no such thing as a perfect decision because you can’t predict the  future. If you search for the perfect solution you effectively trap yourself and become paralyzed

– you don’t decide because the decision you seek does not exist. Effective decision making involves choosing what appears to be the best option based on the information you have.

So what tools can help you do that?


Here are some of my favourites…..


  1. Ladder up and ladder down- get someone to help you and ask the questions. Take each option in turn. Imagine you are at themed point of a very long ladder. Get your coach or partner to ask  the following question: if you take this option what is best that can happen? when you have replied get them to repeat the question saying ‘if that happens, what is the best that can happen?’ and then keep repeating until you end up in nirvana!. Then step down, so starting on the middle step again, get your partner to ask ‘if you take this option what’s the worst that can happen?’ and then keep asking the question until you end up in hell. Then repeat the exercise with each of the options that you are considering. Notice the path  that each option results in.


  1. Think of the wisest people you know.. and in your imagination, gather them into a room and then imagine yourself in the middle of the room. Ask the wise people what they think would be the best thing for you to do.. see what answers you get!


  1. Create a matrix, identify what the important issues are for you here. Maybe use the career niche criteria and put them across the horizontal  headings of a table. Put the options down the vertical. Fill the table in with the different information so that you can compare each option in detail. Colour each box in the table, green for a good or desirable attribute of the option, white for neutral and red for a poor or undesirable attribute of an option. Notice the colour patterns that emerge.


  1. Not all criteria should have equal weighting, one thing might be critically important to you, use a paired comparison technique to discover how to weight your criteria. The ‘career niche’  model includes looking at your values. Finding out which of these is most important to you by comparing each value with all the others in turn will help you identify what is really critical and  can give you a weighting for your matrix.


  1. Walk away or try it out. Some techniques can be really simple. If you are not sure that you want to do something. Don’t. Walk away. Then  listen to the ‘inner voice’, is it saying: you ought to, you should, or is it saying ohh but I wanted that…. Works for me in shops, by the time I’ve walked 100yds down the street I know whether I really want something or not. Trying it out is the reverse, walk towards the option, begin the process (or at least imagine yourself doing it..) how does it feel? how motivated are you by this?


  1. In all this churning of the information, looking at advantages and key criteria, what is really important is that you listen to that inner voice. Sometimes people get a very logical result and therefore a logical decision but it is important to consider how you feel about this decision?  Sometimes the most logical course is not the one you really want to take, so listen to your inner voice, your intuition or your gut reaction. As one of our Olympiads said ‘you only have one life, so enjoy it’ Don’t listen to the oughts and the should, don’t be influenced by what others say you should do, or what they want you to do.  Don’t let fear and trepidation overwhelm you, just listen to your well informed and well considered inner voice.


  1. And finally sleep on it and see how you feel in the morning once your subconscious has had a chance to process all the information.


Effective decision makers recognize that there may be no perfect solution, and they make decisions! They realize that:

  • Decisions need to be made in the face of time limits or limited information.
  • You can’t predict the future.
  • No one can ever really identify all the factors that influence a decision.
  • You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and a good decision may be unpopular with some, what’s important is that it is popular with you!

For more support to make those most critical decisions, call me on 01342 826735


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