Take Time: Bringing Critical Thinking into Decision Making

Taking time includes bringing in critical thinking before reaching a decision or acting. The need for managers to take a step back before acting, to take time to think through the issues and then act, is a recurrent theme in many of our conversations.

It is a problem that has always existed although many of us would speculate that the speed of response and the pressure to respond quickly has intensified in the last ten years, perhaps as the ‘always on culture’ has developed with the positives and negatives of social media, and mobile technologies.

FOCUS: For all level of management in your organisation. Although this topic is equally relevant to all team members, whatever their role.

Taking Time: Does it Really Matter?

It may be that for some people, the ability to react quickly, respond, deal with a situation or make a decision, works well.  Undoubtedly in some situations, this ability to think and react quickly is essential.

However, on other occasions, we may be acting too fast, making the wrong decision and we then have to deal with the consequences.

Bringing Critical Thinking into our Decision Making 

By bringing a more methodical and critical approach into our decision making, we can improve the quality of our decisions and the decisions of our team.

A quick self-audit that considers the following,  is helpful:

How much do I:

  • Pay attention to the assumptions that I am making before making a decision?
  • Encourage others to share their ideas and fully listen to what they are saying?
  • Remain open to other people’s ideas, particularly ideas that differ from mine?
  • Think how others might perceive a situation or have a different view of the situation?
  • Stay aware of my own bias or other people’s bias that might be influencing my or their view of the way forward?
  • Actively seek views from others to seek out views different to my own?

Being aware of our own approach is an important first step.

Boosting Critical Thinking in Our Reactions and Decision Making

There are some steps that we can all take to slow down before we act, allowing us to apply some initial critical thinking techniques to help with better decision making.

Step One: Be Aware of Your Own Drivers

The reasons that we react the way we do to situations is based on many factors.  However, we can start to increase our self-awareness of what is influencing our reactions.

By being aware of our values, beliefs and attitudes, we are in a better position to be aware of what influences our decisions, at a sub-conscious level.

For example, do you believe that you need to respond quickly to an e-mail in order to show that you are on top of your work or you have the answers?  How is this affecting the way you look after your clients?

Step Two: Be Aware of the Barriers that Stop You thinking Critically

Many factors can stop us thinking clearly and add to the need for us to step back before acting.

Some of the key ones that we see in our work include:

A) The Pressure of Time

This is a key reason that a decision can turn out to be the wrong decision.

The decision was taken in a rush, the pressure to reach a decision and act was too great.  As a result, it was the stress that drove the decision, not clear thinking.  In addition, corners are more likely to be cut increasing the risk of something going wrong.

Ask: Am I acting too fast or without a complete picture?  Am I cutting corners that should not be cut?

B) Past Experiences and False Confidence

We can be too influenced by what we have previously experienced or what worked before or what did not work before.  We can also develop a false memory of what happened and a false confidence about what is the right way forward.  It is important to draw on experience but it is also important to sense check that the experience is relevant and that we are thinking clearly about the current problem facing us.

Ask: Am I drawing on the right experience?  Is this experience relevant?  Am I remembering the process and outcomes correctly?

C) Lack of Self Awareness

Jumping straight in, thinking that we know the solution, that we are best placed to act and that we do not need input from anyone else is good when it works but is not always the best route.

Recognising that we might not have the best answer, that others may have a valuable input or that we might be acting with an incomplete picture can help us to think before we make a decision or act.

Some people have a really effective internal dialogue to question their ideas and thoughts, and others do not.  Learning to develop this ability is very useful.

Ask: Do I need input from others?  Am I acting without thinking through what is driving me?  Am I clear on what is motivating me?  Have I involved the right people?

Step Three: Be Open to Being Challenged, and Seek Out People with Different Views to Your Own

It is important to check your assumptions, the options that you have identified and your view of the likely outcomes, with people who are likely to hold a different view to yourself.  Avoid being over confident in your own decision making abilities.

To make this do-able, you are more likely to get feedback if you have a rapport with the people that you are talking to or you create an environment around you where people feel that they can and should comment and provide feedback.

Step Four: Are you an Introvert or Extrovert?

This is not an exact science and there is a lot of resource on this topic.

However, the important thing to be aware of, is that those who are more extrovert are likely to seek out other people’s views and input.  If you are introvert, you are more likely to try and reach the decision on your own.  Being aware of what you are more likely to do and what your team members are more likely to do, helps you to sense check if you are getting the input that you need.

Step Five: Ask Probing Questions

Asking probing questions of yourself or of others involved in making the decision, can be critical in getting a clear picture of a situation and the consequences of the decision.

Good examples include:

What are the consequences of that assumption?

How does that affect other considerations?

What if we took an entirely opposite approach?

How does this reflect on our previous experience?

What aspect of this do I least understand?

What is the worst thing that could go wrong?

Step Six: Critical Thinking and Decision Making Tools versus the Human Element

There is an array of decision-making tools that can help with a range of types of decisions (from simple to complex).  A key element to allow for, however, is the human element.  Getting out of your routine, sleeping on the decision or doing something completely different, will all help you draw on your intuition and work out if you are making the right decision.


We are not suggesting that every decision or reaction can be given extra time but we are encouraging the supervisors and managers that we work with, and their colleagues, to take a few moments before acting, and for more complex or higher risk decisions, to take a bit more time and be aware of what might be influencing their decision making process.


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