Critical Thinking in the Decision-Making Process
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by Nancy Schnoebelen Imbs
Published by American Society of Administration Professionals

We make decisions and solve problems every day, whether we realize it or not. In fact, some research suggests the average adult makes up to an eye-popping 35,000 unconscious decisions a day such as, for example, what time should I get up in the morning, should I hit the snooze button, what shall I wear or eat, should I take the stairs or ride the elevator, sit, stand, exercise or not? These routine choices are easy and seamless and often require not much thought.

It’s the more complex or major decisions, however, that wrestle our minds. They’re decisions that don’t come easy. We’ll ponder, weigh the options, analyze, confer with others and even sleep on it to come up with the best choice. Problem solving and making a complex decision rest in our ability to identify options, research them and put things together in a way that works. Having a process to work through can take the anxiety out of problem solving and make decisions easier.

“Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level.”

~ Peter Drucker

Decisions combine fact and theory. They’re the choices we make in light of how we interpret the events we observe. We can consider “facts” as basic ingredients and “information” as a supplement to the facts:

Decision-making Ingredients

  • Facts
  • Knowledge
  • Experience
  • Analysis
  • Judgment

Decision-making Supplements

  • Information
  • Advice
  • Experimentation
  • Intuition

Each decision carries certain consequences – good and bad. Taking the time to problem solve and make a critical decision will not only offer you a confident approach, it also allows you to combine logic, reasoning and intuition to bring forth the best option for that all-important decision. What’s more, this process shows, thoughtfulness and critical thinking skills – important leadership traits for professional success.

When a big decision seems like it could be too much to tackle all at once, break it down, take small steps, get more information, reconsider and then make the next decision. It helps make the decision-making process a lot easier.

Follow these seven steps for critical-thinking and decision-making success.

Step 1: Understand Decision to be Made
This is a critical first step. Define the nature of the decision.

Step 2: Gather Important Information
Collect relevant information: what information is needed, sources of information and how to get it. This process involves internal efforts, seeking a decision through self-assessment. The decision-making process also involves external work in which you’ll receive information from others, data or other resources.

Step 3: Identify Options
As you collect information, you’ll likely identify varying alternatives. Use your creativity as well to construct new options. List all possible and desirable alternatives.

Step 4: Weigh the Choices 
Draw upon your knowledge and emotions to imagine what it would be like if you decided on each of the alternatives. Evaluate whether the need identified in Step 1 would be met or resolved using each option. As you go through this challenging internal process, you’ll begin to favor certain alternatives: those that seem to have a higher potential for reaching the decision. Finally, place the alternatives in order of priority.

Step 5: Decide
Once you have carefully evaluated options, you’re ready to make the decision that appears to be the best choice. You may even choose a combination of alternatives. Your choice in Step 5 may likely be the same or like the alternative you placed at the top of your list at the end of Step 4.

Step 6: Act
You’re now ready to take positive action by beginning to implement the decision you chose in Step 5.

Step 7: Review Your Decision and Its Consequences
Consider the results of your decision and evaluate whether it resolved the need you identified in Step 1. If the decision has not met the identified need, you may want to repeat certain steps of the process to make a new decision. For example, you might want to gather more detailed or somewhat different information or explore additional alternatives.