Your decision-making style bubbles to the surface whenever you need to make a choice at work.
A study from Columbia University found that we make more than 70 conscious decisions each day, and that doesn’t count the defaults that are built into your routine. Some estimates say that number is actually closer to 35,000.
As a leader, this probably doesn’t surprise you. Maybe you need to figure out which big project your team should prioritize. Perhaps you need to determine what candidate your department will hire. Maybe you have to resolve a conflict by deciding between two suggested solutions to a problem.
Your decision-making style is all about what you do when faced with these kinds of choices. Do you gather as many opinions as possible? Trust your own gut? Throw a dart at a board?
There’s no one right way to reach a conclusion (although we don’t think the dart method is super reliable). Your decision-making style is your default approach for processing situations and making choices, and it’s probably different from other leaders on your team.
Why is it important to recognize your own decision-making style?
To put it simply, knowledge is power.
Understanding the different decision-making styles does a lot of good things for you:
- Boost your confidence: When you understand the behind-the-scenes workings of how you reach a decision, you’ll feel more confident in the final result. This is especially important when you consider that half of business leaders don’t feel confident leading their teams.
- Address your weaknesses: Knowing your decision-making style will help you address your blind spots before they cause problems.
- Collaborate more effectively: Recognizing your own style is great. It’s even more powerful when you understand how other people make decisions, too. You’ll delegate smarter and find group work easier with this information in your mental tool kit.
Combine all of the above, and you reach the biggest perk of knowing your own style: you make better decisions.
You can play to your strengths, mitigate your weaknesses, and tailor your approach to best suit a specific situation.
4 types of decision-making styles
When it comes to decision-making styles in management, there’s no such thing as “good” and “bad.”
There are four distinct styles, each of which has its own unique pros, cons, and use cases. Let’s take an in-depth look at each of them.
1. Directive decision-making
Think about the term “directive.” It sounds like you’re taking charge, doesn’t it? That’s a good way to think about this decision-making style.
When you’re a directive decision-maker, you rely on your own insights and experiences to make decisions. You don’t feel a need to pull in the opinions or perspectives of others. You’d rather weigh the pros and cons yourself, make a choice, and then loop others in.
In group settings, these are the people who take charge. They know what they want, and they direct other people to do whatever it takes to get it.
You might also hear this called independent decision-making, decisive decision-making, or autocratic decision-making.
How to recognize directive decision-making:
- You prefer to take action. You can become frustrated when people dwell on decisions
- You feel way more efficient when you make decisions alone
- You use rules, procedures, and past results to inform future decisions
- You’re often referred to as rational and level-headed
This decision-making style is great for:
- Situations when a swift decision is required and there isn’t time for collaboration and consensus
- Situations when there’s only one answer or way forward, as evidenced by rules, processes, and previous events
Directive decision-making can be challenging when:
- Teams or groups want to contribute their opinions to the decision-making process, rather than having directions handed down from on high
- Navigating a situation you haven’t been in before, as there aren’t existing processes or past experiences to lean on
Let’s look at an example of directive decision-making in action:
Irene leads the customer service team at her company and is made aware of an issue with an unhappy customer. Irene reviews the past interactions with the customer, references their team’s policies for dealing with similar scenarios, and issues the customer a full refund. Afterwards, she sends an email to her team to update them about the resolution.
2. Analytical decision-making
Analytical decision-makers cringe at the thought of quick decisions. If this is your style, you need time to consider all of the facts and weigh all of the possibilities before you choose.
For you, the decision-making process involves gathering as much information as possible. You want to know all the relevant information including data, observations, facts, experiences, and opinions.
It’s a little time consuming, but you feel that this depth of information helps you make a thoughtful and well-informed choice.
The analytical decision-makers on your team are the ones that thrive on data. If anyone needs to know the exact numbers or the details of any situation, they gravitate towards this type of person.
You might also hear this called consultative decision-making or integrative decision-making.
How to recognize analytical decision-making:
- You believe that the best decisions take time, and you’ll take as long as you need to feel comfortable
- You think that the strongest decisions come from information. The more information you can gather, the better the decision will be
- You don’t need a black-and-white answer. Creative problem solving is actually fun
Analytical decision-making is great for:
- Situations where there could be a lot of different right answers, so there’s room for creativity to find the best solution
- Situations that require perspective and information from a variety of sources
Analytical decision-making can be challenging when:
- A quick decision is required, so there isn’t enough time to gather large amounts of information
- There isn’t a ton of information available, so leaders need to rely on their gut instincts over analysis
Let’s look at an example of analytical decision-making in action:
Muhammed wants to plan a retreat for his team. He starts early to ensure he can plan the best outing possible. He sends out a survey to his team to collect their opinions, asks other leaders for their own experiences with company retreats, and gathers as much online advice (in the form of articles and videos) as he can. Once a tentative plan is ready, he collects more feedback from his team before finalizing the retreat itinerary.
3. Behavioral decision-making
If this is you, the reactions and feelings of other people mean a lot to you. You’re not too proud to admit it, either.
Behavioral decision-makers like you value relationships. When making choices, you consider other people’s emotions and needs. The best decision is the one that benefits everyone.
You want your team to react positively to the decisions you make, which means you ask for advice and get reactions from others before settling on a final choice.
In a team environment, behavioral decision-makers feel like the glue that keeps everyone working together.
You might also hear this style called flexible decision-making, team decision-making, relationship decision-making, or consensus decision-making.
How to recognize behavioral decision-making:
- You care about harmony on your team. That’s why you prefer to make decisions that don’t rock the boat
- Before deciding, you ask others “What do you think?” or “How do you feel?”
- Relationships are your most valuable asset in the workplace
Behavioral decision-making is great for:
- Situations that have low possibility for conflict and disagreement
- Situations where there isn’t one right decision and you can easily opt for the most popular and agreeable solution
Behavioral decision-making can be challenging when:
- A popular decision is impossible, so conflict and disapproval are inevitable
- You’re so focused on harmony that it overshadows any opportunity for creativity or out-of-the-box thinking
Let’s look at an example of the behavioral decision-making style in action:
Mae needs to choose a new CRM for her sales team. She provides her team three different software options to test, then hosts a session where everyone can chime in with their experiences, opinions, and frustrations. After that, she identifies the software she plans to move forward with and asks her team, “I think we’re going to go with XYZ. What do you think?” Again, she listens to their feedback. If there are vocal disapprovers, she’ll revisit her options.
4. Conceptual decision-making
Is this you?
Decisions aren’t stressful for you. On the contrary, they’re a chance for you to dream up innovative solutions and think outside the box. You emphasize collaboration and encourage team members to think without limits, too.
If you’re a conceptual decision-maker, you focus on the future. That means you don’t just evaluate the immediate impact of your decisions — you also look at the impact they could make months and years down the road.
People with this decision-making style are often described as the “idea person” on the team. They’re creative and inspiring.
You might also hear this decision-making style called holistic decision-making, visionary decision-making, or theoretical decision-making.
How to recognize conceptual decision-making:
- You thrive with ambiguity and love open-ended questions and problems
- You’re often told you’re creative and that you have big ideas
- You think about the big picture when making decisions, rather than only examining the choice in front of you
Conceptual decision-making is great for:
- Situations where there’s a lot of uncertainty and not one defined outcome
- Situations when you don’t need an immediate answer or instantaneous results, and you have some wiggle room to experiment
Conceptual decision-making can be challenging when:
- There isn’t a lot of room for trial and error, so you need to pursue the “safest” option
- Your culture doesn’t provide a lot of psychological safety and team members fear risks and potential failures
- Time is limited, so you can’t pursue a big-picture project and need to focus on a short-term solution first
Here’s an example of what the conceptual decision-making style looks like in action:
Jason is tasked with determining the next feature his development team should add to their product. He pulls the team together for a brainstorming session and encourages them to brainstorm features without limitation — what would they add if money and time weren’t an issue? From there, Jason lands on an ambitious option that they’ll pursue. But, he leaves flexibility to change course if the team needs to.
3 tips for pinpointing your own decision-making style
Maybe you read through the bullet points of the different decision-making styles above and thought, “Oh, yep! This is totally how I tackle choices.” Or perhaps you’re still scratching your head and struggling to identify which style fits you best.
You can actually have more than one decision-making style. Sometimes, a person usually behaves one way, but reverts to a different style when you’re under pressure. It’s also possible to blend styles.
Confused? Have no fear. We asked psychological experts to share a few tips you can use to figure out how you operate and get the most out of your default decision-making style.
1. Look at things from a broad perspective
While we’re talking about these styles in the context of the workplace, it can be helpful to reflect beyond making decisions at work. Consider decisions you’ve made in your personal or social life as well.
“As much as we like to think that styles don’t tend to intersect or carry over, they often do,” explains Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist.
So, to get the most accurate grasp on how you approach decisions, take a step back and look at things from a broader view. “Interestingly, people tend to have one general style across all these sectors, yet the style can shift somewhat depending upon the environment and situation,” Dr. Manly adds.
Here are some common situations to think about:
- What do you do when you and your spouse or significant other can’t decide where to go for dinner? Do you look at reviews, talk about past favorites, or just make a decision and go with it?
- At the grocery store, do you make a list or grab whatever looks good? Does it matter if items are on sale or what brands people in your household like most?
- When you meet up with your friends, how do you decide where to go and what to do? Do you make the decision and then invite them, or do you all decide together?
The way you handle everyday decisions is probably pretty similar to the way you handle choices and solve problems at work.
Think about what happens when you make decisions under stress, too. You might have a different default style when you need to make high-pressure choices.
2. Ask for feedback
It’s always enlightening to hear how others see you — and often, it doesn’t quite match up with how you see yourself.
That’s why it can be so helpful to collect feedback from other people who are around while you make decisions. Here are some of the things you can ask:
- How would you describe my decision-making process?
- What’s one thing you appreciate about how I approach decisions?
- What’s one thing that frustrates you about how I approach decisions?
As Dr. Manly advises, just make sure that you have these feedback conversations with sources that you trust to provide candid and honest responses. Friends and family members may be concerned about hurting your feelings, while employees will likely worry that any critical feedback might put their job at risk.
3. Recognize that your style can change
As Dr. Lisa Hartwell, a psychologist of Hartwell Therapy Consulting LLC says, these neat categories for decision-making styles are convenient. “Psychology loves labels and boxes, and this does have some merit when conducting research so you can eventually generalize your results,” she says.
However, Dr. Hartwell also says that you should focus on finding your individual style, regardless of if it fits perfectly into one of these buckets. “Otherwise, you spend a lot of time trying to ‘fit’ into a framework that doesn’t quite feel right.”
It’s also important to note that your style isn’t set in stone. It can shift.
“Your decision-making style may change according to situations and the other personalities involved,” says Dr. Manly. “Look for tendencies rather than one specific ‘black and white’ answer. Some people may find that they are very much one style, while others may find that they are more fluid.”
While it’s useful to know your habits and recognize the tendencies of your team, be careful not to put too much emphasis on these types of personality tools. They’re meant to help you understand behavior, not predict the future. Use this information wisely.
Decisions, decisions: use your decision-making style to your advantage
Decisions are inevitable, and that’s especially true when you’re a leader. You’re faced with dozens of important choices every day.
They can start to get overwhelming, and decision fatigue is real. Resist the urge to flip a coin, pick a number, or compete in a rousing game of rock/paper/scissors to choose your route.
Instead, take a step back and use your normal decision-making style to your advantage. Doing so will allow you to play to your strengths, mitigate your weaknesses, and ultimately become a better leader.