People make mistakes. It is in our nature. We don’t always do the right thing for any number of reasons. Sometimes we don’t know what the right thing to do is in a particular situation. Sometimes we know and it is just easier (or better) for us if we don’t. Other times, we do what we think is best and there are unintended consequences. Some seem good in the moment but hindsight reveals the path we should have taken instead. We make a lot of decisions over the course of a lifetime; not all of them are going to be the best choices.

Is there a way to try and avoid making mistakes in decision making?

This is a question we have been asking ourselves often. The answer is probably no, but there are ways to make your decisions BETTER than before. You may not always make the correct choice in the end, but if you feel that you have tried to do the best you can when you’re making decisions, even mistakes will be something you can learn from and not feel as guilty about. When you can’t find a right or wrong answer, you can think about things in an ethical manner. The method we have been taught in class can be done in five steps.

  1. Recognize that the decision you are facing is an ethical one. Decide that you are going to make the decision that is going to be the right one, regardless of your own personal stakes in the matter. Could your decision negatively affect someone? Are there legal consequences?
  2. Once you determine what the decision is really about, you need to be more informed. Be honest with what you know and try to find out anything else that might help you make the right decision. Talk to the people it might impact and get their take on the situation. Discover what your options are.
  3. Now that you have options, you need to evaluate them.Hopefully, by following this step, a pattern will emerge and you will start to eliminate the bad choices and be left with one good decision. Look at the options from all sides. You want to find the decision that will work best for all involved. You can also look at it from your point of view: which decision aligns with the person you want to be?
  4. Choose the option you feel best handles the situation. Imagine yourself having to defend this decision. Would it be hard to do, or would you feel good about it? If someone you admired asked you what you planned to do, do you think they would approve of what you have decided? If you feel confident at this point that you have come to the right decision, that is what you should do.
  5. After you have made your decision and seen the impact, reflect on what you have done. Did you achieve the outcome you were hoping for? If not, why not? Were there any unexpected consequences? Do you think you could or should have seen them coming? Did you learn anything as a result of this decision? Now that you know how it affected anyone involved, would you make the same decision over again? As you reflect on the choice you made, and you answer these questions honestly, you can put the things you learned toward the next decision and continue to make better choices as you go through life.

These steps may not apply if you are trying to figure out what movie to see or whether you want to purchase a blue couch or a brown one. But when you are faced with a decision and are not sure what to do, or if it will impact others, using the above steps may help guide you to the best choice.