Intent Blog

How to Avoid Mistakes in Decision Making

Decision making is an essential part of all of our lives. We are all constantly making decisions, big or small. For all of us there would have been a time, in some situation, when it was easy to make the perfect decision. At the time it was the decision that made the most sense and worked out as expected. But, it is only easy to make the perfect decision when things are simple.

Now, most often things are not that simple, and the decisions are not that straightforward. There are many reasons for decisions becoming more difficult, but there are two things worth noticing, namely complexity and ambiguity.


This is when there are many variables that one must consider when deciding. Decision making has become like a person having to balance many balls, and balance them in such a way that they give exactly the pattern or outcome needed, without dropping one ball.


This is when one deals with not knowing clearly or exactly what is going on. With ambiguity, there is an important level of uncertainty. In this case, uncertainty is not the best emotion to have, not if it prevents thinking of alternatives, or considering new options.

How to get Decision Making Right:

However, the big challenge is our response to complexity and ambiguity. There are two things we should bear in mind in order to better deal with complexity and ambiguity.

Getting closure

Closure is to deliberately decide so that one “can get on with it.” You might have heard people claiming they cannot tolerate the uncertainty, and would rather do something than do nothing. This is about needing closure.

Lots of research has pointed this out as a natural thing we all do when we get ready to decide. The good news is that a need for closure urges a person to put information into a useful format and then to decide. A decision is actually about getting closure.

There is a downside though: because of this urge for closure, people could do this too quickly. Rather than taking time to consider options for putting elements together for a better decision, people rush. It is as if to get away from the uncertainty, they blindly jump, with the attitude that they will deal with the fall-out when it happens. Sometimes this attitude work. Sometimes the fall-out is big and very costly because of the undue haste to get closure.

Here are some suggestion to getting closure right. Two workable solutions to premature closing are: one, slow down by writing the issues effecting the decision. Also, write down the wanted consequences. Two, take a few moments and bounce your ideas of somebody, even with the people who must action the decisions. Ask the question: what is good, and what am I missing in this decision?

Cognitive Dissonance:

Another similar urge in decision making is dealing with “cognitive dissonance.” This is by far the more dangerous for making decisions. (The best reference for this is the book called “Mistakes were made (but not by me”) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson) The cognitive dissonance is when the facts are not compatible with a person’s values or how they see, or present, themselves. When the person realise their mistake, they immediately justify, or totally deny, their contribution to the effect. This is a very human thing and will typically happen to all of us.

For cognitive dissonance, it is good to remember: what is the right balance between kindness and harshness? One of the traps that create cognitive dissonance is to say yes in the moment because of the kindness one intends. If, however, this decision does not go with the courage of one’s conviction to do the right thing, one is setting oneself up for the sting of cognitive dissonance. Then, when confronted with the negative consequences of the decision, one does not learn from the mistake. Rather, the person adds a mistake to the mistake by being a coward to avoid cognitive dissonance.

To make decisions, a person should accept the risk of being wrong. To help minimize this risk it will help to remember that we are not nearly as rational in our decision making is we would like to be, or claim to be. To be aware of the need for closure, and wanting to avoid cognitive dissonance, are good starting points. Both research and experience indicates: don’t rush in making decisions where you really don’t have to. Even if you must make a snap decision, delay if you are not a genuine expert in the matter. Secondly: check your intent and be sure the balance between generosity and courage is right for the decision in this context.

Armand Kruger

Armand Kruger qualified as a clinical psychologist at the University of Pretoria in 1972. Since 1973 he has been working with one burning question: How do successful people do it differently? What alternatives are they doing in their minds not done by the average or the underachiever? To answer that question he went outside of mainstream psychology to find cognitive process models that will capture the essence of success.