Career Development

How to Make a Hard Decision

In business and life, you might face hard decisions that can feel overwhelming or even impossible to make. Though everyone has likely made a tough decision at some point, there are approaches that could help you navigate the options and become more decisive overall. This article explains what exactly a hard decision is and provides some steps and strategies that can optimize the decision-making process.

What makes a decision difficult?

Hard decisions are made from problems where the choice is often complicated or confusing that a majority of people have been or will be faced with at some point. These difficult decisions often have uncertain, major or negative consequences, which gives them high stakes. These attributes can add a level of intensity or stress to the decision-making process that only serves to further complicate the issue and can result in excessive procrastination or worry on the part of the decision-maker. Though the correct decision may seem unclear immediately, careful and informed consideration can help you make the best choice for you and your organization.

How to make hard decisions

Here are some steps and strategies that you can use the next time you are making a particularly difficult decision:

1. First, set aside time to think

Tough decisions can seem even more difficult when they are time-sensitive. In fact, oftentimes a hard decision can feel urgent, regardless of the presence of time constraints. This can all add up to feeling like you lack the time necessary to truly weigh all of the options. However, making decisions is a task that deserves your dedicated attention.

It can be helpful to schedule a time in your day or week that is devoted to making the hard decision. Depending on the magnitude of the problem, you may need more time. For example, a small decision may only require 30 minutes to an hour of your day, while a larger decision could necessitate a few hours of dedicated time each week for two or three weeks. Regardless of the attention required, block the time off in your calendar and regularly add it to your to-do list.

2. Second, define the issue and the decision

Before you can make a truly informed decision, you’ll first want to view the situation comprehensively. It’s important to take some time to fully grasp the choice that you are making. A helpful way to do this is to list out the key factors that are involved or will be affected by the decision you are making. By detailing all aspects of your choice, you will be equipped with a better understanding of the problem, which could provide you with the clarity that you need to make a decision.

3. Third, consider all of your options

Though there are some decisions that require a simple yes or no answer, there are often alternative options that are possibly less obvious at first. In fact, there are some situations that can resolve themselves without requiring you to make an actual decision. Spend some time brainstorming all of the solutions, including compromises and letting the choice pass, before reaching a final decision. 

4. Fourth, rely on your values

When faced with a difficult choice, it can be easy to forget about the values and guidelines that should lead all decisions for yourself and/or your company. Take some time to think about whether a decision will infringe on these predetermined values. It’s possible that your values have already made the choice for you before you could realize it.

5. Fifth, talk through the issue

If you tend to process information verbally, it may be helpful to adopt the strategy of discussion. By talking through the decision and all of the elements involved, you may be able to reach a decision much faster than if you contemplated it silently on your own. 

To use this strategy, you just need to find a good listener who will allow you the space and time to hear your monologue. In fact, finding someone who is knowledgeable about the topic is unnecessary. You really just need someone who will listen and occasionally help you reflect on the thoughts you have shared. By the end of the exercise, you will likely come to a conclusion or, at the very least, have a much clearer idea of the issue you have been presented with.

6. Sixth, ask for another perspective

Though having someone who will listen can be helpful, sometimes you need a little more than that. Asking someone for their opinion about a decision can be beneficial if you are contemplating doing something for the first time and you know someone who has relevant experience to the situation you are facing. Asking for wise counsel can help you to make a more informed decision much quicker.

Though getting advice from others can be beneficial, avoid accepting their suggestions without careful consideration. Even if you decide that their proposed plan is undesirable for you, it could help you to realize the decision that you need and want to make.

7. Seventh, view the issue by using cause and effect

Along with considering all of the factors involved in a decision, it can be helpful to view the problem in terms of cause and effect. Take some time going through every solution and weigh the possible outcomes. If there are some decisions that result in more favorable consequences, that will help you eliminate and choose the best possible option.

A helpful way to approach this strategy for decision-making is to use a technique that allows you to think about the situation in if/then terms. For example, ‘If we cut this budget, then we will lose X and gain Y.’ Another strategy for using this technique is to create a pro/con list to consider all of the effects, both positive and negative, that each choice will carry.

8. Finally, use a timer

If you have thought through all of your options, solicited additional opinions, collected data and considered all possible outcomes but are still faced with uncertainty, it may be time to realize that the choice will remain unclear. In these situations, it can be the best practice to just commit and make a decision.

If you are able, you may want to minimize the decision, allowing you to test the choice without significant commitment or investment. However, it will be beneficial to make a decisive choice regardless. The time that you will save by finally reaching a decision will aid your productivity as well as your clarity.