4 Decision Making Methods



“There is no decision that we can make that doesn’t come with some sort of balance or sacrifice.” — Simon Sinek

What are four common ways of making decisions?

How do you choose the most effective decision making approach?

In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler write about the four most common decision making methods and how to choose the most effective approach.

4 Methods of Decision Making

According to the authors of Crucial Conversations, there’s four common ways of making decisions:

  1. Command – decisions are made with no involvement.
  2. Consult – invite input from others.
  3. Vote – discuss options and then call for a vote.
  4. Consensus – talk until everyone agrees to one decision.

1. Command Style Decision Making

According to the authors of Crucial Conversations, command is when there’s no involvement:

“Let’s start with decisions that are made with no involvement whatsoever.  This happens in one of two ways.  Either outside forces place demands on us (demands that leave us no wiggle room), or we turn decisions over to others and then follow their lead.  We don’t care enough to be involved – let someone else do the work.”

2. Consult Style Decision Making

According to the authors of Crucial Conversations consult is when you ask for input:

“Consulting is a process whereby decision makers invite others to influence them before they make their choice.  You can consult with experts, a representative population, or even everyone who wants to offer an opinion. 

Consulting can be an efficient way of gaining ideas and support without bogging down the decision making process.  At least not too much.  Wise leaders, parents, and even couples frequently make decisions in this way.  They gather ideas, evaluate options, make a choice, and then inform the broader population.”

3. Vote Style Decision Making

The authors of Crucial Conversations suggest only using a vote when team members agree to support whatever decision is made:

“Voting is best suited to situations where efficiency is the highest value – and you’re selecting from a number of good options.  Members of the team realize they may not get their first choice, but frankly they don’t want to waste time talking the issue to death. 

They may discuss options for a while and then call for a vote.  When facing several decent options, voting is a great time saver but should never be used when team members don’t agree to support whatever decision is made.  In these cases, consensus is required.”

4. Consensus Style Decision Making

The  authors of Crucial Conversations suggest using consensus when there’s high stakes or you need everyone to fully support the final decision:

This method can be both a great blessing and a frustrating curse.  Consensus means that you talk until everyone honestly agrees to one decision.  This method can produce tremendous unity and high-quality decisions.  If misapplied, it can also be a horrible waste of time.  It should only be used with (1) high-stakes and complex issues or (2) issues where everyone absolutely must support the final choice.

How To Choose Which Decision Method to Use

The authors of Crucial Conversations outline how to choose which decision making method to use:

  1. Who cares?  Determine who genuinely wants to be involved in the decision along with those who will be affected.  These are your candidates for involvement.  Don’t involve people who don’t care.
  2. Who knows?  Identify who has the expertise you need to make the best decision.  Encourage these people to take part.  Try not to involve people who contribute to new information.
  3. Who must agree?  Think of those whose cooperation you might need in the form of authority of influence in any decisions you might make.  It’s better to involve these people than to surprise them and then suffer their open resistance.
  4. How many people is it worth involving?  Your goal should be to involve the fewest number of people while still considering the quality of the decision along with the support that people will give it.  Ask: “Do we have enough people to make a good choice?  Will others have to be involved to gain their commitment?”

Key Takeaways   

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Don’t use command when you need consensus.  Don’t use command for important decisions that need buy in.  Consensus would be more appropriate.
  • Use consult to make efficient, informed decisions.  Use consult to gain ideas and support without bogging down decision making.
  • Use vote if efficiency is the most important factor.  Use vote for efficiency and when everyone agrees to support the outcome of the vote.
  • Use consensus when you need everybody’s buy in.  Use consensus when you need everybody to support an important decision.

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