We’ve all been in one of those meetings, brainstorming sessions, or calls that end up sounding like a broken record.
“What do you think we should do?”
“I don’t know. What do you think we should do?”
“I’m not sure. What do you think is the right decision?”
Inevitably, someone chimes in with a “Let’s circle back next week…” and you all walk away feeling like you made progress. But let’s be honest. You didn’t.
Whether you’re a team lead, manager, or just trying to move a project forward, being indecisive at work means you’re holding everyone back.
“Good decisions don’t ensure success but bad ones almost always ensure failure.”
When it comes down to it, life is basically a series of choices. Some are mundane (i.e. what to eat for breakfast) while others are more serious (i.e. what program to take at school or what clients to take on).
It’s fine to want to make the best choice possible. The problem is when you let the feat of making the wrong decision paralyze you into becoming indecisive.
So how can you get over this fear and be confident in your choices?
1. Understand the scope of your decision
Not every decision needs to be handled like it’s life-or-death.
Getting realistic about the scope of the project can help you determine how much information you need, how much work should go into it, and who to get involved.
Here are a few questions to help you determine your decision’s scope:
- Is this a situation where you want to be a satisficer or a maximizer? Do you have clear criteria set where you’ll be happy when they’re met? Or is this something more nebulous and potentially more impactful that requires finding the absolute best solution?
- Is this a reversible decision or an irreversible one? Some decisions can be quickly changed if you realize they’re not bringing you the outcomes you want while others can’t.
- How will this decision affect you/your business in the next 10 days, 10 months, and 10 years? Using what’s called the 10/10/10 rule can help you understand the scope of your choice and how far-reaching it is.
2. Make a plan for how you’ll approach the issue
Now that you’ve got a concrete problem to solve it’s time to come up with a concrete solution.
First off, set some ground rules for how you’re going to approach this decision. This doesn’t mean diving in right away, but rather establishing “critical norms”—guidelines around how groups question and use both shared and unshared information, such as:
- Who gets a say?
- Where will the research come from?
- How will we handle objections?
Studies have found that when your group establishes these norms, they not only make better decisions but also feel more comfortable speaking up.
3. Set a realistic (yet strict) deadline
One of the other “rules” you need to break free from indecision is a deadline.
This doesn’t mean you should rush to make a decision. Based on the scope, you need to set a deadline that is realistic yet strict. As Tamara Nall of The Leading Niche writes,
“To move past indecision, I give myself a realistic deadline. My time frame includes the ability to conduct and evaluate analyses that impact my decision making. If I need to gather input from others, I factor that into my deadlines as well. If I need to make a quick decision, I go with my gut and business instinct.”Tamara Nall – The Leading Niche
4. Know who gets to make the final decision (and why)
If you’re indecisive in your own life you know who needs to make the final call. But when you’re in a group setting, this isn’t always totally clear.
Before you can truly tackle a big decision, everyone needs to be clear about who gets the final say, why, and how they play a part in that choice.
5. Use the 40/70 rule to counter perfectionism
Indecision often happens when you don’t set boundaries on your deliberation or research or fall victim to perfectionism.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell suggests that to stay active and quickly make decisions with “enough” information, you should start thinking about it at 40% and make a choice at 70%:
“Some time after you have obtained 40% of all the information you are liable to get, start thinking in terms of making a decision.
“When you have about 70% of all the information, you probably ought to decide, because you may lose an opportunity.”
It’s not easy for everyone to make a call knowing there’s still 30% more effort they could put in. However, like most things, our research into decision-making follows a law of diminishing returns.
The more time you spend researching the more likely you are to get overwhelmed by the options and become indecisive.
6. Remove options from the table
There’s no shame in shutting down when faced with too many options. As psychologist Barry Schwartz writes in The Paradox of Choice, too many choices not only leads to analysis paralysis and indecision but can even result in depression.
More options might seem better. But you’re more likely to act when the race is tighter. Before you try to come up with your choice, narrow the field by asking whether each one applies to your “operating principles.”
According to Stripe’s COO, Claire Hughes Johnson, your company (or you as an individual) needs to have a clear lens through which you can make rapid decisions. For example, Stripe’s principles include:
- Users first
- Think rigorously
- Trust and amplify
If your options don’t fit into those frameworks, they can be tossed.
7. Bring in a barbarian
In a meta-analysis of 50 years’ worth of decision-making research published by Harvard Business School, the one piece of advice that came up time and time again was to get an outsider’s opinion. This helps for a number of reasons:
- Reduces your overconfidence about what you know
- Reduces the time it takes to make the decision
- Increases your chance of entrepreneurial success
Who you bring in doesn’t really matter. It could be a friend, colleague, or mentor. However, it just as easily could be someone within your team or even yourself adopting an outsider’s perspective.
Some people like to call this approach bringing a “barbarian” to every meeting—someone who will speak awkward truths and force you to overcome your indecision quickly and confidently.
Be confident in your decision-making process
There’s only one thing that’s guaranteed to happen if you’re indecisive. Nothing.
While you’re sitting around stressing about getting this “just right,” the rest of the world moves on around you.
Instead, you need to understand why you’re being indecisive and then create a framework to help you act. Set ground rules and build context around your decisions. Set deadlines and know who gets the final say. Reduce your options, prioritize, and then bring in a barbarian to help you feel confident you’re making the right choice.
In the end, everything that brings us personal and professional success comes down to making choices. And the more you feel confident and capable, the further you’ll go.