Soft Skills Young Workers

Teaching the Art of Making Decisions

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Decision making: identifying and considering multiple options, assessing the pros and cons of each, and choosing the course of action closest to the desired outcome.

Participants in our seminars sometimes ask me why I draw a distinction between “problem solving” and “decision making.” Indeed, decision making could be seen as a very advanced form of problem solving. But I like to shine a bright light on this distinction: nine out of 10 problems people face in the workplace—especially the problems new young employees face—have been solved already. So the best way to solve a problem is to take a good repeatable solution from the past and apply it in the moment.

That’s why my approach to problem solving is nine-tenths about capturing and learning repeatable solutions. What’s more, this is a way to prepare in advance for recurring problems. Decision making, on the other hand, is for that rare breed of problem—or that sliver present in every problem—where the decision has not been made already by someone with more experience and authority. And what is that sliver common to every problem? Deciding what the problem really is in the first place.

What is the essence of decision making anyway? It’s not the same thing as sheer brain power, mental capacity, or natural intelligence. It’s not a matter of accumulated knowledge or memorized information. It is more than the mastery of techniques and tools.


If you think about decision making, maybe you think of the most basic decision-making tool: the weighing of pros and cons. But pros and cons are really just predictions of likely outcomes. So your pros and cons list is useless if you can’t accurately predict the likely outcomes of one choice versus another.

Good decision-making is really about being able to predict likely outcomes. To see the connections between cause and effect. To project out the consequences of one set of events and actions as opposed to another. The irony is that the only way to develop that “go forward” ability to predict the future is to learn from the past.

I recall witnessing a young person, maybe 16 or 17 years old, going through a brunch buffet line. She turned to her mother and asked, “Mom, do I like scrambled eggs?” Her mother turned to her and said, “Well, you’ve had scrambled eggs before.” The young lady said, “I know. Did I like them?”

Experience alone does not teach good decision making. The key to learning from experience is paying close attention and aggressively drawing lessons from one’s experiences. If you can begin to see the patterns in causes and their effects, then you can start to think ahead with insight. Ultimately, that’s the key to decision making.

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is internationally recognized as the leading expert on young people in the workplace and one of the leading experts on leadership and management. Bruce is a best-selling author, an adviser to business leaders all over the world, and a sought-after keynote speaker and management trainer.

Since 1995, Bruce has worked with tens of thousands of leaders and managers in hundreds of organizations ranging from Aetna to Wal-Mart; from the Army to the YMCA.  In recent years, Bruce was named by Management Today as one of the few contemporary figures to stand out as a “management guru” and he was named to the 2009 Thinkers 50 rising star list. On August 13, 2009, Bruce was honored to accept Toastmasters International’s most prestigious honor, the Golden Gavel. This honor is annually presented to a single person who represents excellence in the fields of communication and leadership. Past winners have included Stephen Covey, Zig Ziglar, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Ken Blanchard, Tom Peters, Art Linkletter, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and Walter Cronkite.

Bruce’s most recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face: Step-by-step Solutions to (Nearly) All of Your Management Challenges (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2014) was published in September, 2014.  He is also the author of the best-seller It’s Okay to Be the Boss (HarperCollins, 2007) and the classic Managing Generation X (W.W. Norton, 2000; first published in 1995). Bruce’s other books include Winning the Talent Wars (W.W. Norton, 2001), which received widespread acclaim from Fortune 500 CEOs and business journalists; the best-seller Fast Feedback (HRD Press, 1998); Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: Managing Generation Y (Jossey-Bass, 2009); Managing the Generation Mix (HRD Press, 2006) and It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (Jossey-Bass, 2010).   Many of Bruce’s works have been published around the world in foreign editions.

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