Got A Tough Decision? Here’s How To Tackle It

In the 14 years I’ve run my business there have been numerous points where I’ve made a conscious decision to re-focus what I do. (It won’t surprise you to learn that a major Driver in my personal brand is forward momentum and making progress.)

First I re-focused from executive coaching to personal brand coaching. Then I re-focused from helping SMEs to helping large corporates. Then I re-focused from providing services in-person to delivering them online. (Though that re-focus was forced on me by the pandemic.)

I was recently pondering another re-focus, mulling over in my mind what I really wanted to achieve, but I found myself mentally going round in circles. So I did what I often do to straighten my thinking: I wrote a list of pros and cons.

But not just any old list

My list of pros and cons had extra elements that took it to the next level and made my final decision a piece of cake. In fact, the process was so successful I thought, ‘Ooh, I should write my next blog post about this, because I can’t be the only one facing a tough decision.’

So here’s how it worked…

Step 1: Set out the question

Grab a piece of paper and write a question at the top, being very clear about what you’re trying to answer.

In my case, I wrote: Do I want to increase my focus on being a keynote speaker at large in-person events? I’ve done a fair few over the years, but have been wondering about ramping up that part of my work.

Step 2: Answer it 4 ways

This is what will really elevate your thinking – writing not just one list of pros and cons, but two: one list for if you answer “Yes” and follow through on the question, one for if you answer “No” and do nothing.

Taking your page, draw a line down the middle vertically, plus one across the middle horizontally, splitting it into four boxes. Then label each box with one of the following:

  • Pros if the answer is “Yes”
  • Cons if the answer is “Yes”
  • Pros if the answer is “No”
  • Cons if the answer is “No”

Go through each box, one at a time, answering the question and listing all the thoughts you come up with – some of which will literally be the flipside of another answer. Keep going until you’ve exhausted each list.

I came up with lots of answers in all four boxes, so here are a couple from each to show you how it works:

Pros if the answer is “Yes” ie What are the upsides if I increase my keynote speaker gigs?

  • Exposure to lots of people at once
  • Could lead to further work

Cons if the answer is “Yes” ie What are the downsides if I increase my keynote speaker gigs?

  • More travel/time away from home
  • More stressful

Pros if the answer is “No” ie What are the upsides if I keep things as they are?

  • Don’t have to go to the effort of getting gigs
  • More time at home

Cons if the answers is “No” ie What are the downsides if I keep things as they are?

  • Not pushing myself to develop
  • Need to find other ways to gain exposure

Step 3: Give a rating

Having come up with lists of pros and cons, the normal course of action would be to see which list outnumbers the other and use that to make your decision. But that doesn’t take into account the value of each thing on the list.

That’s why it’s important to go through each answer and give it a score for how much it matters to you. I used a scale of 1 – 5, with 1 being low and 5 being high. So my examples ended up looking like this:

Pros if the answer is “Yes”

  • Exposure to lots of people at once 4
  • Could lead to further work 5

Cons if the answer is “Yes”

  • More travel/time away from home 3
  • More stressful 3

Pros if the answer is “No”

  • Don’t have to go to the effort of getting gigs 2
  • More time at home 3

Cons if the answers is “No”

  • Not pushing myself to develop 4
  • Need to find other ways to gain exposure 3

Step 4: Do the maths

As you go through deciding your ratings, you’ll already be getting a feel for which way your decision is heading. But as a final check, it’s good to work out the average score for each of the four boxes.

I did this two ways: the mean average (adding up all the scores for each box, then dividing the total by the number of things listed) and the mode average (seeing which number appeared most often in each box).

The final scores on the doors very clearly showed me the decision to take, which freed my brain up to get on with the change in focus and start some balls rolling. Just deciding what to do is no guarantee it will happen, but the chances of success are a lot higher than if you can’t make a decision in the first place!

What do you do when you have a tough decision to make? Are there any parts of this process that could be improved? Do you have a completely different way of tackling it? Or do you avoid the decision and let nature take its course? I’d love to hear your perspective with a comment in the box below. Thanks!

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3 responses to “Got A Tough Decision? Here’s How To Tackle It”

  1. Jeff says:

    In making a tough decision we must first assess the probability of consequences – if we have time to do that. Otherwise it may be a matter of instinct over logic.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      Time is always a factor in being able to make a decision. Sometimes too much time can be detrimental though and lead to inaction.

  2. Kate Smith says:

    Love this Jennifer! It helps us to look at the issue from all angles, as opposed to allowing our bias or beliefs to cloud our judgement. I also reckon, as you say in your blog, that in doing the process, the ‘right’ answer will emerge, despite the maths at the end! Ultimately decisions come from emotions so by working through those, you’ll know what the right route is.

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