Sunday, December 11, 2011

Making decisions

When my husband and I were shopping for wedding rings it quickly became apparent that we have very different decision making styles.  My husband is analytical.  He likes to identify all possible options and discover everything he can about each one.  True to his nature, he wanted to go to every jewelry store in the area to see what they had before deciding which rings to buy.  After two days of going from one store to another (and realizing that most of them had basically the same inventory and price range) I was frustrated and annoyed.

I am a task oriented person.  Buying our wedding rings was just one on a list of many things that had to be done in preparation for the wedding.  When there is some task that needs to be done my mind will not rest until it is completed.  In terms of decision making, this means I like to identify a few acceptable options that meet a short list of criteria and choose from those the one that seems to be the best fit.  The task gets completed in an acceptable manner and I am free to move on to other things.

I realize there are drawback to the way I make decisions.  In prioritizing efficiency I might miss out on finding an "ideal" solution or getting the best deal.  In the case of the wedding rings, maybe the perfect ring was out there somewhere, and on sale; if so, I missed out because I didn't take the time to look everywhere.  Still, I'm happy with the rings we decided to get and never once have I wished we'd shopped around a little more.

There are also drawbacks to my husband's method of decision making. Sometimes, he gets so lost in the details of the various options that he misses the big picture.  For example, he might spend so much time looking for the best bargain on a birthday gift for a relative that he misses the person's birthday altogether.  He might give the gift belatedly or he might just decide to cut his losses and send a card.

My experience ring shopping made me curious about the different ways people make decisions.  I thought a simple google search would turn up a short list of specific "decision making styles."  I was wrong.  Apparently, there are as many theories about how people make decisions as there are ways for people to make decisions.  There are also different sets of ideas depending upon the context in which a decision is made (e.g., organizational or management decision making; consumer financial decision making; personal, day to day decision making; career and occupational decision making; etc.).  So much for a quick and easy way to satisfy my curiosity.  

I ended up reading a huge amount of information about decision making and pulling out what I thought was relevant.  There were a few common themes.  So without further ado, I present to you a (VERY) basic (and by NO means comprehensive) list of individual decision making styles:

1. Rational/Analytic: This style involves identifying all potential options and gaining as much information as possible about each one.  Once all options are identified and explored, each one is systematically evaluated based on a list of pre-determined criteria, to include costs, benefits and probable outcomes.  Using the results of these evaluations, each option is compared to the others and the best one is selected.

2. Intuitive: This style involves selecting an option based on your "gut feeling."  In other words, you choose the option that feels right, maybe without knowing exactly why.

3. Consultative: This style involves seeking feedback and advice from several trusted individuals.  You take this feedback into consideration when forming your own opinions and evaluating available options.  In other words, the feedback you receive from others influences your opinions and shapes the way you think about your options.  You might also use a consultative style after you form your own opinions and evaluate available options.  In this instance, you would use some other decision making technique to reach a tentative conclusion about the path you want to take; you would then seek feedback from others as a cautionary measure.  If others support the decision you want to make then you will be confident in implementing it.  If those you consult bring up points that you had not previously considered, you might go back to the beginning of the decision making process and re-evaluate your options.

4. Dependent: Like the consultative style, this method also involves seeking direction and advice from several trusted individuals.  The difference in the two methods is that someone using a dependent style is looking for someone to tell him what he should do (as opposed to using feedback from others to guide him in making a decision for himself).  Essentially, a "dependent decision maker" tries to avoid making his own decisions by having someone else make them for him.

5. Avoidant: This style involves putting off making a decision until the last possible moment.  The extra time is not used to gather information or to weigh available options.  Rather, the time is spent trying to avoid thinking about the decision at all.  Basically, an "avoidant decision maker" doesn't like making decisions and tries to put off doing it until he absolutely has to.  Avoidant decision makers  tend to procrastinate in other areas of their lives as well.

6. Spontaneous: This style involves approaching all decisions with a sense of immediacy and urgency.  A spontaneous decision maker is driven by his desire to get through the decision making process as quickly as possible.   (THIS IS ME!  I was elated to find my decision making style described as "spontaneous."  In reality, the appropriate adjective is probably something more like "anxious").

Decision making is a more complex topic than I initially realized.  A person's decision making style is typically influenced by his or her personality.  Obviously, personality is an infinitely complicated concept that I will not even try to tackle here.  How do you make decisions?  Does your decision making style seem to "fit" with your personality?  Is your style one I talked about in this post or are there some decision making styles I completely overlooked?


  1. I'm mostly intuitive with a big dash of spontaneous, which is really fun because my husband be the same when it comes to purchases.

    With hard decisions I still count all on my gut, he's changes and defiantly becomes a big ole avoidant, go figure!

  2. Interesting topic! I am totally a mix of intuitive and consultative.

  3. I'm so guilty of "prioritizing efficiency" (well said!). Is is a Social Worker thing ...??

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hmm, maybe it is a social worker thing...


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