Do you have a decision-making style?

A profile

This profile looks quite decisive

What is your decision-making style?

Do you actually have one…or many?

In much of the literature on decision making approaches, there is a tendency to allocate people to one of a number of different categories or styles.

For example, you might be classified as (Scott & Bruce, 1995):

  • Rational – You tend to make decisions in a logical and systematic way
  • Avoidant – You tend to avoid making important decisions until the pressure is on
  • Dependent – You tend to make important decisions by consulting other people
  • Intuitive – You tend to make decisions by relying on your instinct
  • Spontaneous – You tend to make impulsive decisions

This seems to me to be overly simplistic and that is also the conclusion of a paper by a group of Israeli psychologists.

Instead of one decision-making style, determined by a dominant characteristic, Gati et al. (2010) propose a more complex decision-making profile composed of 11 different dimensions.

  • Information gathering (comprehensive vs. minimal) – the degree to which individuals are meticulous and thorough in collecting and organizing information.
  • Information processing (analytic vs. holistic) – the degree to which the individual analyses information into its components, and processes the information according to these components.
  • Locus of control (internal vs. external) – the degree to which individuals believe they control their occupational future and feel that their decisions affect their career opportunities, or that these are mainly determined by external forces such as fate or luck.
  • Effort invested in the process (much vs. little) – the amount of time and mental effort individuals invest in the decision-making process.
  • Procrastination (high vs. low) – the degree to which the individual avoids or delays beginning or advancing through the career decision-making process.
  • Speed of making the final decision (fast vs. slow) – the length of time individuals need to make their final decision once the information has been collected and compiled.
  • Consulting with others (frequent vs. rare) – the extent to which individuals consult with others during the different stages of the decision process.
  • Dependence on others (high vs. low) – the degree to which individuals accept full responsibility for making their decision (even if they consult with others), as opposed to expecting others to make the decision for them.
  • Desire to please others (high vs. low) – the degree to which the individual attempts to satisfy the expectations of significant others (e.g., parents, partner, friends).
  • Aspiration for an ideal occupation (high vs. low) – the extent to which individuals strive for an occupation that is perfect for them.
  • Willingness to compromise – the extent to which individuals are willing to be flexible about their preferred alternative when they encounter difficulties in actualizing it.

This seems to me to be a much more useful way of looking at decision making tendencies. I can imagine using this framework in helping clients to think about their own approach to making choices.

The authors make an important point in relation to this model: some of the factors may be demonstrated consistently by an individual across different decisions, whereas others may change depending on the type of decision, the context in which it is made and the stage in the choice process.

  • How do you think you could use this framework with clients?
  • Have they missed anything?
  • What decision-making profile do you exhibit?

Further reading

  • Gati, I. et al. (2010) From career decision-making styles to career decision-making profiles: A multidimensional approach. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76(2), 277-291. DOI: 10.1016/j.jvb.2009.11.001
  • Scott, S. G. & Bruce, R. A. (1995) Decision-making style: The development and assessment of a new measure. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 55(5), 818-831. doi: 10.1177/0013164495055005017

Related post: The decisive moment

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  1. #1 by Jim bright on 7 September 2010 - 10:28

    Itamar Gati is one of the cleverest and nicest people to grace our field and deservedly won the ncda award this year. His avoidant category – putting off till the last minute, could be seen in chaotic terms as not a negative thing but rather a very contingent and good thing. In rapidly changing circumstances the later you commit to action often ( but not obviously always) the better. Must stop as I’m in a very posh restaurant with fake French accents and everything, and a waiter already tried to confiscate my iPad believing it to be the menu!!!

    • #2 by David Winter on 7 September 2010 - 17:54

      I would view quite a few of those dimensions as containing complementary strategies with either end of the spectrum representing an appropriate approach in certain circumstances.

      In some cases it is right to be analytical and in others holistic.

      For some decisions it is worth putting lots of effort in, in other circumstances that would be a waste of time.

      In some cases you need to decide quickly and in others it is more useful to deliberate longer.

      In some cases a consensus or community decision is more sustainable than an independent decision.

      I’m immediately suspicious of any framework which presents one set of behaviours as right and the ‘opposite’ as wrong. I tend to think in terms of contextually appropriate or inappropriate.

  2. #3 by Gill on 7 September 2010 - 10:34

    My style: Rationally avoidant, but sometimes spontaneously intuitive! I don’t think it’s possible to be that prescriptive as it depends on the decision you are making and what and who are involved… which bears out the theory of a more complex decision making profile.

    Do you think that some people like to cast themselves into a decision-making style and thereby actually devolve responsibility for good and considered decision-making?

    • #4 by David Winter on 7 September 2010 - 18:03

      I think with any categorisation or typing system there is potential to use it as an excuse. That certainly happens with MBTI types. You hear people saying ‘Oh, well I’m an N so I can’t do detail,’ which is nonsense. You can do it, but it requires more effort, if you couldn’t do it at all you wouldn’t be able to function.

      When I’ve worked with clients on decision making, I have often tried to identify particular patterns of decision-making that have been unhelpful and the circumstances that produce that kind of decision. We’ve then worked on alternative strategies for dealing with that type of situation in the future.

      I guess the first step in correcting unhelpful behaviours and thinking is to identify them. I like these frameworks because they can be a useful way of spotting and naming patterns.

      • #5 by Gill on 8 September 2010 - 09:20

        Identifying unhelpful behaviours is the key. I think that typing comes into play more when a person is put in an extreme position, ie under pressure. From talking to different people about career planning and job-hunting, and my own behaviour relating to it, it does seem to be an area of life where, for whatever reason, one suspends ones normal decision making and reasoning processes!
        I like your example below about helping a foundation doctor transfer their clinical decision-making process to another area of decision making. It’s amazing how easy it is to silo the experiences and skills of one part of our lives away from other areas where they can equally be applied. It’s good to have people around who can help you discover those light bulb moments.

        Great blog – really enjoying reading.

  3. #6 by Ghislaine Dell on 7 September 2010 - 13:58

    I’m sure I’m not alone in making decisions in a different way depending on the context – I’m looking forward to exploring with some of my researcher clients whether and how the decision making processes they use regarding their work are different to those out of it (like what career to choose next…!).

    • #7 by David Winter on 7 September 2010 - 18:06

      When I do work with Foundation doctors on choosing their specialty, I often compare career decision making with clinical decision making. You can see lights going on in people’s heads when they realise that the processes that make clinical decisions safer (and the biases that one should be alert for) are just as applicable to making career decisions.

      • #8 by Sally Purcell on 7 March 2011 - 02:19

        I do this too, David and find it to be very effective. Regardless of the person and their area of interest and/or expertise they discover that they can effectively transfer their problem solving/ decision making skills to help them to sort out their career dilemmas. Common sense, really.

  4. #9 by Vinny on 9 September 2010 - 14:57

    Instead of asking people about the variations in the eleven different dimensions to their approach, why not simply explore the type of decision it is.
    If you explore the decision, then the client can then apply the approach which is most appropriate.
    I think this is why David’s approach with the Foundation Doctors works. By providing an example of when they have sucessfully made a decision, they can then draw a parallel between the two and hopefully make a better decision about their career. The trick is to make sure you find an appropriate parallel example.

    • #10 by David Winter on 9 September 2010 - 16:54

      The other trick is to use the application process as the motivational driver.

      “You are going to have to explain your career choice to people who will be assessing your thinking as a doctor. It’s easier to talk about things you have actually done.”

  5. #11 by Vinny on 10 September 2010 - 15:52

    Sometimes making it visual can help. SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) or flow diagrams can be very useful.
    I particularly like flow diagrams for more complex decisions, as you can see all the possible consequences of each decision.
    Having something on paper can sometimes focus people’s minds rather than having everything whirling round in the head.
    It can then lead to some useful decisions about attitude to risk taking and possible biases etc etc.

  6. #12 by Makeda Heard on 2 June 2015 - 19:15

    This is so helpful and eye opening. As a graduate student of Education when I learned of Gardners Multiple Intelligences it helped me view people differently and I was amazed at what I learned about my learning style. This information is equally amazing. It will help me when involved in interactions and negotiations with others to be mindful that everyone’s decision making approach is not the same.

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