Solving Problems and Making Decisions

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How To Use Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills at Work

How to use problem-solving and decision-making skills.

You can use a streamlined and organized process to solve problems and make decisions at work to increase your productivity. You can use the following five steps to improve your problem-solving and decision-making abilities:

1. Define the issue

The first step is to define the problem or issue. Analyze the problem once you’ve located it and consider what might have caused it. Try to identify any smaller issues within the main problem. Understanding the problem is essential before considering potential solutions and actions is important. Later in the process, it may be simpler to make decisions if the problem is clearly defined.

Give a clear definition or explanation of your problem so that everyone can understand it. You might query the issue’s requirements by asking:

These inquiries can help you and others fully comprehend the problem before moving forward with developing a solution by elucidating information related to it.

2. Brainstorm different approaches

Once the problem has been identified and examined, you can start formulating potential solutions. Try to get input from mentors and those involved with the issue in an effort to understand all sides of the issue. You might also consider how you’ve handled issues like this one in the past. Make sure to take into account both short- and long-term solutions to the problem. Additionally, consider how potential strategies would fit with the mission and objectives of your business.

To visualize your brainstorm, use tools like a whiteboard or online software. You can brainstorm alone or with others. Common brainstorming techniques include:

When coming up with ideas for solutions, try to be imaginative and consider as many different angles as you can, even if they seem unlikely. You can solve your current problem and prevent future problems by being creative and coming up with novel solutions that will benefit your business.

3. Evaluate different approaches

After youve brainstormed approaches, its time to evaluate them. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each choice, as well as how each would affect your organization. Additionally, consider the various resources that each choice would demand. Making the best choice for your business by taking into account all of these factors.

4. Make your decision

Once you’ve evaluated your options, it’s time to decide which one to use. You can choose from different decision-making structures, which include:

Once you’ve made a decision, make sure it fully resolves the problem and doesn’t raise any new ones. Make sure the choice is something your business can implement with reasonable success and that it is consistent with your company’s mission, vision, and values. Additionally, you must be able to communicate your choice to all parties concerned. In your workplace, effective communication can help to foster transparency and boost trust.

5. Implement your decision

Once you’ve made a decision, you must determine how to carry it out. Start by identifying main objectives and deliverables and creating deadlines. Then, outline specific steps to meet the objectives. You can assign responsibilities to the appropriate employees and include those who are involved in the issue in the implementation plan. After that, present your strategy to everyone involved in the problem and solicit feedback.

6. Monitor your progress

Once your strategy is established, be sure to keep track of your development over time. Determine whether your plans objectives have been met. You can also gather information or ask those involved for feedback to evaluate the efficacy of your choice. If a new choice is required, revise your strategy as necessary or go back to your brainstorm of potential solutions.

Problem-solving vs. decision-making

As both involve using information to guide a particular action, the terms “problem-solving” and “decision-making” are frequently used interchangeably. Making a decision is necessary to solve a problem, but that is where the similarities end. The primary distinction between the two is that the first is a procedure and the second is an action.

Why are problem-solving and decision-making important in the workplace?

Both problem-solving and decision-making abilities are crucial because they can enable you to deal with a variety of workplace situations. They work well together and can be applied to many of the same problems. Both problem-solving and decision-making involve critical thinking.

Problem-solving and decision-making are applicable to all careers and industries. Employers typically value these abilities in job candidates because both can assist businesses by resolving complex situations and problems. They demonstrate your capacity to consider various scenarios and reach decisions that are advantageous to the business.

For instance, a company might be dealing with a number of issues that all require time and resources. A good manager or leader must prioritize which issues. That entails reaching a number of decisions during the problem-solving process and then acting to solve the issue.

Problem-solving and decision-making tips

Here are some tips for solving problems and making decisions:

Develop related skills

You can enhance your ability to solve problems and make decisions by learning relevant skills. Some useful skills to develop include:

Communicate with other people

Reflect on your past decisions.

Your decision-making and problem-solving skills can be further enhanced by thinking back on previous decisions and solutions. Consider the decisions you’ve made in the past and their effectiveness. Think about the decision-making process you employed, and select elements that worked to include in your new problem-solving and decision-making process.

Learn more about your industry

Understanding your industry better can help you comprehend various situations and make the best decisions for your business. Through training, certifications, and courses, as well as by speaking with a mentor, you can gain knowledge about your industry.

Research other techniques

You can look into various methods and exercises to aid in decision-making and problem-solving. For instance, you could look into how a respected company resolves issues and makes decisions. This can assist you in developing fresh ideas and cutting-edge approaches to help you decide what’s best for your business.

Decision Making and Problem Solving

What are the steps in problem solving and decision making?

What are the 7 steps to problem solving?

How will you improve problem solving and decision making skills?

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14.3 Problem Solving and Decision Making in Groups

Learning objectives.

Although the steps of problem solving and decision making that we will discuss next may seem obvious, we often don’t think to or choose not to use them. Instead, we start working on a problem and later realize we are lost and have to backtrack. I’m sure we’ve all reached a point in a project or task and had the “OK, now what?” moment. I’ve recently taken up some carpentry projects as a functional hobby, and I have developed a great respect for the importance of advanced planning. It’s frustrating to get to a crucial point in building or fixing something only to realize that you have to unscrew a support board that you already screwed in, have to drive back to the hardware store to get something that you didn’t think to get earlier, or have to completely start over. In this section, we will discuss the group problem-solving process, methods of decision making, and influences on these processes.

Group Problem Solving

The problem-solving process involves thoughts, discussions, actions, and decisions that occur from the first consideration of a problematic situation to the goal. The problems that groups face are varied, but some common problems include budgeting funds, raising funds, planning events, addressing customer or citizen complaints, creating or adapting products or services to fit needs, supporting members, and raising awareness about issues or causes.

Problems of all sorts have three common components (Adams & Galanes, 2009):

Discussion of these three elements of a problem helps the group tailor its problem-solving process, as each problem will vary. While these three general elements are present in each problem, the group should also address specific characteristics of the problem. Five common and important characteristics to consider are task difficulty, number of possible solutions, group member interest in problem, group member familiarity with problem, and the need for solution acceptance (Adams & Galanes, 2009).


Group problem solving can be a confusing puzzle unless it is approached systematically.

Muness Castle – Problem Solving – CC BY-SA 2.0.

Group Problem-Solving Process

There are several variations of similar problem-solving models based on US American scholar John Dewey’s reflective thinking process (Bormann & Bormann, 1988). As you read through the steps in the process, think about how you can apply what we learned regarding the general and specific elements of problems. Some of the following steps are straightforward, and they are things we would logically do when faced with a problem. However, taking a deliberate and systematic approach to problem solving has been shown to benefit group functioning and performance. A deliberate approach is especially beneficial for groups that do not have an established history of working together and will only be able to meet occasionally. Although a group should attend to each step of the process, group leaders or other group members who facilitate problem solving should be cautious not to dogmatically follow each element of the process or force a group along. Such a lack of flexibility could limit group member input and negatively affect the group’s cohesion and climate.

Step 1: Define the Problem

Define the problem by considering the three elements shared by every problem: the current undesirable situation, the goal or more desirable situation, and obstacles in the way (Adams & Galanes, 2009). At this stage, group members share what they know about the current situation, without proposing solutions or evaluating the information. Here are some good questions to ask during this stage: What is the current difficulty? How did we come to know that the difficulty exists? Who/what is involved? Why is it meaningful/urgent/important? What have the effects been so far? What, if any, elements of the difficulty require clarification? At the end of this stage, the group should be able to compose a single sentence that summarizes the problem called a problem statement . Avoid wording in the problem statement or question that hints at potential solutions. A small group formed to investigate ethical violations of city officials could use the following problem statement: “Our state does not currently have a mechanism for citizens to report suspected ethical violations by city officials.”

Step 2: Analyze the Problem

During this step a group should analyze the problem and the group’s relationship to the problem. Whereas the first step involved exploring the “what” related to the problem, this step focuses on the “why.” At this stage, group members can discuss the potential causes of the difficulty. Group members may also want to begin setting out an agenda or timeline for the group’s problem-solving process, looking forward to the other steps. To fully analyze the problem, the group can discuss the five common problem variables discussed before. Here are two examples of questions that the group formed to address ethics violations might ask: Why doesn’t our city have an ethics reporting mechanism? Do cities of similar size have such a mechanism? Once the problem has been analyzed, the group can pose a problem question that will guide the group as it generates possible solutions. “How can citizens report suspected ethical violations of city officials and how will such reports be processed and addressed?” As you can see, the problem question is more complex than the problem statement, since the group has moved on to more in-depth discussion of the problem during step 2.

Step 3: Generate Possible Solutions

During this step, group members generate possible solutions to the problem. Again, solutions should not be evaluated at this point, only proposed and clarified. The question should be what could we do to address this problem, not what should we do to address it. It is perfectly OK for a group member to question another person’s idea by asking something like “What do you mean?” or “Could you explain your reasoning more?” Discussions at this stage may reveal a need to return to previous steps to better define or more fully analyze a problem. Since many problems are multifaceted, it is necessary for group members to generate solutions for each part of the problem separately, making sure to have multiple solutions for each part. Stopping the solution-generating process prematurely can lead to groupthink. For the problem question previously posed, the group would need to generate solutions for all three parts of the problem included in the question. Possible solutions for the first part of the problem (How can citizens report ethical violations?) may include “online reporting system, e-mail, in-person, anonymously, on-the-record,” and so on. Possible solutions for the second part of the problem (How will reports be processed?) may include “daily by a newly appointed ethics officer, weekly by a nonpartisan nongovernment employee,” and so on. Possible solutions for the third part of the problem (How will reports be addressed?) may include “by a newly appointed ethics commission, by the accused’s supervisor, by the city manager,” and so on.

Step 4: Evaluate Solutions

During this step, solutions can be critically evaluated based on their credibility, completeness, and worth. Once the potential solutions have been narrowed based on more obvious differences in relevance and/or merit, the group should analyze each solution based on its potential effects—especially negative effects. Groups that are required to report the rationale for their decision or whose decisions may be subject to public scrutiny would be wise to make a set list of criteria for evaluating each solution. Additionally, solutions can be evaluated based on how well they fit with the group’s charge and the abilities of the group. To do this, group members may ask, “Does this solution live up to the original purpose or mission of the group?” and “Can the solution actually be implemented with our current resources and connections?” and “How will this solution be supported, funded, enforced, and assessed?” Secondary tensions and substantive conflict, two concepts discussed earlier, emerge during this step of problem solving, and group members will need to employ effective critical thinking and listening skills.

Decision making is part of the larger process of problem solving and it plays a prominent role in this step. While there are several fairly similar models for problem solving, there are many varied decision-making techniques that groups can use. For example, to narrow the list of proposed solutions, group members may decide by majority vote, by weighing the pros and cons, or by discussing them until a consensus is reached. There are also more complex decision-making models like the “six hats method,” which we will discuss later. Once the final decision is reached, the group leader or facilitator should confirm that the group is in agreement. It may be beneficial to let the group break for a while or even to delay the final decision until a later meeting to allow people time to evaluate it outside of the group context.

Step 5: Implement and Assess the Solution

Implementing the solution requires some advanced planning, and it should not be rushed unless the group is operating under strict time restraints or delay may lead to some kind of harm. Although some solutions can be implemented immediately, others may take days, months, or years. As was noted earlier, it may be beneficial for groups to poll those who will be affected by the solution as to their opinion of it or even to do a pilot test to observe the effectiveness of the solution and how people react to it. Before implementation, groups should also determine how and when they would assess the effectiveness of the solution by asking, “How will we know if the solution is working or not?” Since solution assessment will vary based on whether or not the group is disbanded, groups should also consider the following questions: If the group disbands after implementation, who will be responsible for assessing the solution? If the solution fails, will the same group reconvene or will a new group be formed?


Once a solution has been reached and the group has the “green light” to implement it, it should proceed deliberately and cautiously, making sure to consider possible consequences and address them as needed.

Jocko Benoit – Prodigal Light – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Certain elements of the solution may need to be delegated out to various people inside and outside the group. Group members may also be assigned to implement a particular part of the solution based on their role in the decision making or because it connects to their area of expertise. Likewise, group members may be tasked with publicizing the solution or “selling” it to a particular group of stakeholders. Last, the group should consider its future. In some cases, the group will get to decide if it will stay together and continue working on other tasks or if it will disband. In other cases, outside forces determine the group’s fate.

“Getting Competent”

Problem Solving and Group Presentations

Giving a group presentation requires that individual group members and the group as a whole solve many problems and make many decisions. Although having more people involved in a presentation increases logistical difficulties and has the potential to create more conflict, a well-prepared and well-delivered group presentation can be more engaging and effective than a typical presentation. The main problems facing a group giving a presentation are (1) dividing responsibilities, (2) coordinating schedules and time management, and (3) working out the logistics of the presentation delivery.

In terms of dividing responsibilities, assigning individual work at the first meeting and then trying to fit it all together before the presentation (which is what many college students do when faced with a group project) is not the recommended method. Integrating content and visual aids created by several different people into a seamless final product takes time and effort, and the person “stuck” with this job at the end usually ends up developing some resentment toward his or her group members. While it’s OK for group members to do work independently outside of group meetings, spend time working together to help set up some standards for content and formatting expectations that will help make later integration of work easier. Taking the time to complete one part of the presentation together can help set those standards for later individual work. Discuss the roles that various group members will play openly so there isn’t role confusion. There could be one point person for keeping track of the group’s progress and schedule, one point person for communication, one point person for content integration, one point person for visual aids, and so on. Each person shouldn’t do all that work on his or her own but help focus the group’s attention on his or her specific area during group meetings (Stanton, 2009).

Scheduling group meetings is one of the most challenging problems groups face, given people’s busy lives. From the beginning, it should be clearly communicated that the group needs to spend considerable time in face-to-face meetings, and group members should know that they may have to make an occasional sacrifice to attend. Especially important is the commitment to scheduling time to rehearse the presentation. Consider creating a contract of group guidelines that includes expectations for meeting attendance to increase group members’ commitment.

Group presentations require members to navigate many logistics of their presentation. While it may be easier for a group to assign each member to create a five-minute segment and then transition from one person to the next, this is definitely not the most engaging method. Creating a master presentation and then assigning individual speakers creates a more fluid and dynamic presentation and allows everyone to become familiar with the content, which can help if a person doesn’t show up to present and during the question-and-answer section. Once the content of the presentation is complete, figure out introductions, transitions, visual aids, and the use of time and space (Stanton, 2012). In terms of introductions, figure out if one person will introduce all the speakers at the beginning, if speakers will introduce themselves at the beginning, or if introductions will occur as the presentation progresses. In terms of transitions, make sure each person has included in his or her speaking notes when presentation duties switch from one person to the next. Visual aids have the potential to cause hiccups in a group presentation if they aren’t fluidly integrated. Practicing with visual aids and having one person control them may help prevent this. Know how long your presentation is and know how you’re going to use the space. Presenters should know how long the whole presentation should be and how long each of their segments should be so that everyone can share the responsibility of keeping time. Also consider the size and layout of the presentation space. You don’t want presenters huddled in a corner until it’s their turn to speak or trapped behind furniture when their turn comes around.

Decision Making in Groups

We all engage in personal decision making daily, and we all know that some decisions are more difficult than others. When we make decisions in groups, we face some challenges that we do not face in our personal decision making, but we also stand to benefit from some advantages of group decision making (Napier & Gershenfeld, 2004). Group decision making can appear fair and democratic but really only be a gesture that covers up the fact that certain group members or the group leader have already decided. Group decision making also takes more time than individual decisions and can be burdensome if some group members do not do their assigned work, divert the group with self-centered or unproductive role behaviors, or miss meetings. Conversely, though, group decisions are often more informed, since all group members develop a shared understanding of a problem through discussion and debate. The shared understanding may also be more complex and deep than what an individual would develop, because the group members are exposed to a variety of viewpoints that can broaden their own perspectives. Group decisions also benefit from synergy, one of the key advantages of group communication that we discussed earlier. Most groups do not use a specific method of decision making, perhaps thinking that they’ll work things out as they go. This can lead to unequal participation, social loafing, premature decisions, prolonged discussion, and a host of other negative consequences. So in this section we will learn some practices that will prepare us for good decision making and some specific techniques we can use to help us reach a final decision.

Brainstorming before Decision Making

Before groups can make a decision, they need to generate possible solutions to their problem. The most commonly used method is brainstorming, although most people don’t follow the recommended steps of brainstorming. As you’ll recall, brainstorming refers to the quick generation of ideas free of evaluation. The originator of the term brainstorming said the following four rules must be followed for the technique to be effective (Osborn, 1959):

To make brainstorming more of a decision-making method rather than an idea-generating method, group communication scholars have suggested additional steps that precede and follow brainstorming (Cragan & Wright, 1991).

Discussion before Decision Making

The nominal group technique guides decision making through a four-step process that includes idea generation and evaluation and seeks to elicit equal contributions from all group members (Delbecq & Ven de Ven, 1971). This method is useful because the procedure involves all group members systematically, which fixes the problem of uneven participation during discussions. Since everyone contributes to the discussion, this method can also help reduce instances of social loafing. To use the nominal group technique, do the following:

During the first step, have group members work quietly, in the same space, to write down every idea they have to address the task or problem they face. This shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes. Whoever is facilitating the discussion should remind group members to use brainstorming techniques, which means they shouldn’t evaluate ideas as they are generated. Ask group members to remain silent once they’ve finished their list so they do not distract others.

During the second step, the facilitator goes around the group in a consistent order asking each person to share one idea at a time. As the idea is shared, the facilitator records it on a master list that everyone can see. Keep track of how many times each idea comes up, as that could be an idea that warrants more discussion. Continue this process until all the ideas have been shared. As a note to facilitators, some group members may begin to edit their list or self-censor when asked to provide one of their ideas. To limit a person’s apprehension with sharing his or her ideas and to ensure that each idea is shared, I have asked group members to exchange lists with someone else so they can share ideas from the list they receive without fear of being personally judged.

During step three, the facilitator should note that group members can now ask for clarification on ideas on the master list. Do not let this discussion stray into evaluation of ideas. To help avoid an unnecessarily long discussion, it may be useful to go from one person to the next to ask which ideas need clarifying and then go to the originator(s) of the idea in question for clarification.

During the fourth step, members use a voting ballot to rank the acceptability of the ideas on the master list. If the list is long, you may ask group members to rank only their top five or so choices. The facilitator then takes up the secret ballots and reviews them in a random order, noting the rankings of each idea. Ideally, the highest ranked idea can then be discussed and decided on. The nominal group technique does not carry a group all the way through to the point of decision; rather, it sets the group up for a roundtable discussion or use of some other method to evaluate the merits of the top ideas.

Specific Decision-Making Techniques

Some decision-making techniques involve determining a course of action based on the level of agreement among the group members. These methods include majority, expert, authority, and consensus rule. Table 14.1 “Pros and Cons of Agreement-Based Decision-Making Techniques” reviews the pros and cons of each of these methods.


Majority rule is a simple method of decision making based on voting. In most cases a majority is considered half plus one.

Becky McCray – Voting – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Majority rule is a commonly used decision-making technique in which a majority (one-half plus one) must agree before a decision is made. A show-of-hands vote, a paper ballot, or an electronic voting system can determine the majority choice. Many decision-making bodies, including the US House of Representatives, Senate, and Supreme Court, use majority rule to make decisions, which shows that it is often associated with democratic decision making, since each person gets one vote and each vote counts equally. Of course, other individuals and mediated messages can influence a person’s vote, but since the voting power is spread out over all group members, it is not easy for one person or party to take control of the decision-making process. In some cases—for example, to override a presidential veto or to amend the constitution—a super majority of two-thirds may be required to make a decision.

Minority rule is a decision-making technique in which a designated authority or expert has final say over a decision and may or may not consider the input of other group members. When a designated expert makes a decision by minority rule, there may be buy-in from others in the group, especially if the members of the group didn’t have relevant knowledge or expertise. When a designated authority makes decisions, buy-in will vary based on group members’ level of respect for the authority. For example, decisions made by an elected authority may be more accepted by those who elected him or her than by those who didn’t. As with majority rule, this technique can be time saving. Unlike majority rule, one person or party can have control over the decision-making process. This type of decision making is more similar to that used by monarchs and dictators. An obvious negative consequence of this method is that the needs or wants of one person can override the needs and wants of the majority. A minority deciding for the majority has led to negative consequences throughout history. The white Afrikaner minority that ruled South Africa for decades instituted apartheid, which was a system of racial segregation that disenfranchised and oppressed the majority population. The quality of the decision and its fairness really depends on the designated expert or authority.

Consensus rule is a decision-making technique in which all members of the group must agree on the same decision. On rare occasions, a decision may be ideal for all group members, which can lead to unanimous agreement without further debate and discussion. Although this can be positive, be cautious that this isn’t a sign of groupthink. More typically, consensus is reached only after lengthy discussion. On the plus side, consensus often leads to high-quality decisions due to the time and effort it takes to get everyone in agreement. Group members are also more likely to be committed to the decision because of their investment in reaching it. On the negative side, the ultimate decision is often one that all group members can live with but not one that’s ideal for all members. Additionally, the process of arriving at consensus also includes conflict, as people debate ideas and negotiate the interpersonal tensions that may result.

Table 14.1 Pros and Cons of Agreement-Based Decision-Making Techniques

“Getting Critical”

Six Hats Method of Decision Making

Edward de Bono developed the Six Hats method of thinking in the late 1980s, and it has since become a regular feature in decision-making training in business and professional contexts (de Bono, 1985). The method’s popularity lies in its ability to help people get out of habitual ways of thinking and to allow group members to play different roles and see a problem or decision from multiple points of view. The basic idea is that each of the six hats represents a different way of thinking, and when we figuratively switch hats, we switch the way we think. The hats and their style of thinking are as follows:

Specific sequences or combinations of hats can be used to encourage strategic thinking. For example, the group leader may start off wearing the Blue Hat and suggest that the group start their decision-making process with some “White Hat thinking” in order to process through facts and other available information. During this stage, the group could also process through what other groups have done when faced with a similar problem. Then the leader could begin an evaluation sequence starting with two minutes of “Yellow Hat thinking” to identify potential positive outcomes, then “Black Hat thinking” to allow group members to express reservations about ideas and point out potential problems, then “Red Hat thinking” to get people’s gut reactions to the previous discussion, then “Green Hat thinking” to identify other possible solutions that are more tailored to the group’s situation or completely new approaches. At the end of a sequence, the Blue Hat would want to summarize what was said and begin a new sequence. To successfully use this method, the person wearing the Blue Hat should be familiar with different sequences and plan some of the thinking patterns ahead of time based on the problem and the group members. Each round of thinking should be limited to a certain time frame (two to five minutes) to keep the discussion moving.

Influences on Decision Making

Many factors influence the decision-making process. For example, how might a group’s independence or access to resources affect the decisions they make? What potential advantages and disadvantages come with decisions made by groups that are more or less similar in terms of personality and cultural identities? In this section, we will explore how situational, personality, and cultural influences affect decision making in groups.

Situational Influences on Decision Making

A group’s situational context affects decision making. One key situational element is the degree of freedom that the group has to make its own decisions, secure its own resources, and initiate its own actions. Some groups have to go through multiple approval processes before they can do anything, while others are self-directed, self-governing, and self-sustaining. Another situational influence is uncertainty. In general, groups deal with more uncertainty in decision making than do individuals because of the increased number of variables that comes with adding more people to a situation. Individual group members can’t know what other group members are thinking, whether or not they are doing their work, and how committed they are to the group. So the size of a group is a powerful situational influence, as it adds to uncertainty and complicates communication.

Access to information also influences a group. First, the nature of the group’s task or problem affects its ability to get information. Group members can more easily make decisions about a problem when other groups have similarly experienced it. Even if the problem is complex and serious, the group can learn from other situations and apply what it learns. Second, the group must have access to flows of information. Access to archives, electronic databases, and individuals with relevant experience is necessary to obtain any relevant information about similar problems or to do research on a new or unique problem. In this regard, group members’ formal and information network connections also become important situational influences.


The urgency of a decision can have a major influence on the decision-making process. As a situation becomes more urgent, it requires more specific decision-making methods and types of communication.

Judith E. Bell – Urgent – CC BY-SA 2.0.

The origin and urgency of a problem are also situational factors that influence decision making. In terms of origin, problems usually occur in one of four ways:

In each of the cases, the need for a decision may be more or less urgent depending on how badly something is going wrong, how high the expectations have been raised, or the degree to which people are fed up with a broken system. Decisions must be made in situations ranging from crisis level to mundane.

Personality Influences on Decision Making

A long-studied typology of value orientations that affect decision making consists of the following types of decision maker: the economic, the aesthetic, the theoretical, the social, the political, and the religious (Spranger, 1928).

In the United States, economic, political, and theoretical decision making tend to be more prevalent decision-making orientations, which likely corresponds to the individualistic cultural orientation with its emphasis on competition and efficiency. But situational context, as we discussed before, can also influence our decision making.


Personality affects decision making. For example, “economic” decision makers decide based on what is practical and useful.

One Way Stock – Tough Decisions Ahead – CC BY-ND 2.0.

The personalities of group members, especially leaders and other active members, affect the climate of the group. Group member personalities can be categorized based on where they fall on a continuum anchored by the following descriptors: dominant/submissive, friendly/unfriendly, and instrumental/emotional (Cragan & Wright, 1999). The more group members there are in any extreme of these categories, the more likely that the group climate will also shift to resemble those characteristics.

Cultural Context and Decision Making

Just like neighborhoods, schools, and countries, small groups vary in terms of their degree of similarity and difference. Demographic changes in the United States and increases in technology that can bring different people together make it more likely that we will be interacting in more and more heterogeneous groups (Allen, 2011). Some small groups are more homogenous, meaning the members are more similar, and some are more heterogeneous, meaning the members are more different. Diversity and difference within groups has advantages and disadvantages. In terms of advantages, research finds that, in general, groups that are culturally heterogeneous have better overall performance than more homogenous groups (Haslett & Ruebush, 1999). Additionally, when group members have time to get to know each other and competently communicate across their differences, the advantages of diversity include better decision making due to different perspectives (Thomas, 1999). Unfortunately, groups often operate under time constraints and other pressures that make the possibility for intercultural dialogue and understanding difficult. The main disadvantage of heterogeneous groups is the possibility for conflict, but given that all groups experience conflict, this isn’t solely due to the presence of diversity. We will now look more specifically at how some of the cultural value orientations we’ve learned about already in this book can play out in groups with international diversity and how domestic diversity in terms of demographics can also influence group decision making.

International Diversity in Group Interactions

Cultural value orientations such as individualism/collectivism, power distance, and high-/low-context communication styles all manifest on a continuum of communication behaviors and can influence group decision making. Group members from individualistic cultures are more likely to value task-oriented, efficient, and direct communication. This could manifest in behaviors such as dividing up tasks into individual projects before collaboration begins and then openly debating ideas during discussion and decision making. Additionally, people from cultures that value individualism are more likely to openly express dissent from a decision, essentially expressing their disagreement with the group. Group members from collectivistic cultures are more likely to value relationships over the task at hand. Because of this, they also tend to value conformity and face-saving (often indirect) communication. This could manifest in behaviors such as establishing norms that include periods of socializing to build relationships before task-oriented communication like negotiations begin or norms that limit public disagreement in favor of more indirect communication that doesn’t challenge the face of other group members or the group’s leader. In a group composed of people from a collectivistic culture, each member would likely play harmonizing roles, looking for signs of conflict and resolving them before they become public.

Power distance can also affect group interactions. Some cultures rank higher on power-distance scales, meaning they value hierarchy, make decisions based on status, and believe that people have a set place in society that is fairly unchangeable. Group members from high-power-distance cultures would likely appreciate a strong designated leader who exhibits a more directive leadership style and prefer groups in which members have clear and assigned roles. In a group that is homogenous in terms of having a high-power-distance orientation, members with higher status would be able to openly provide information, and those with lower status may not provide information unless a higher status member explicitly seeks it from them. Low-power-distance cultures do not place as much value and meaning on status and believe that all group members can participate in decision making. Group members from low-power-distance cultures would likely freely speak their mind during a group meeting and prefer a participative leadership style.

How much meaning is conveyed through the context surrounding verbal communication can also affect group communication. Some cultures have a high-context communication style in which much of the meaning in an interaction is conveyed through context such as nonverbal cues and silence. Group members from high-context cultures may avoid saying something directly, assuming that other group members will understand the intended meaning even if the message is indirect. So if someone disagrees with a proposed course of action, he or she may say, “Let’s discuss this tomorrow,” and mean, “I don’t think we should do this.” Such indirect communication is also a face-saving strategy that is common in collectivistic cultures. Other cultures have a low-context communication style that places more importance on the meaning conveyed through words than through context or nonverbal cues. Group members from low-context cultures often say what they mean and mean what they say. For example, if someone doesn’t like an idea, they might say, “I think we should consider more options. This one doesn’t seem like the best we can do.”

In any of these cases, an individual from one culture operating in a group with people of a different cultural orientation could adapt to the expectations of the host culture, especially if that person possesses a high degree of intercultural communication competence (ICC). Additionally, people with high ICC can also adapt to a group member with a different cultural orientation than the host culture. Even though these cultural orientations connect to values that affect our communication in fairly consistent ways, individuals may exhibit different communication behaviors depending on their own individual communication style and the situation.

Domestic Diversity and Group Communication

While it is becoming more likely that we will interact in small groups with international diversity, we are guaranteed to interact in groups that are diverse in terms of the cultural identities found within a single country or the subcultures found within a larger cultural group.

Gender stereotypes sometimes influence the roles that people play within a group. For example, the stereotype that women are more nurturing than men may lead group members (both male and female) to expect that women will play the role of supporters or harmonizers within the group. Since women have primarily performed secretarial work since the 1900s, it may also be expected that women will play the role of recorder. In both of these cases, stereotypical notions of gender place women in roles that are typically not as valued in group communication. The opposite is true for men. In terms of leadership, despite notable exceptions, research shows that men fill an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of leadership positions. We are socialized to see certain behaviors by men as indicative of leadership abilities, even though they may not be. For example, men are often perceived to contribute more to a group because they tend to speak first when asked a question or to fill a silence and are perceived to talk more about task-related matters than relationally oriented matters. Both of these tendencies create a perception that men are more engaged with the task. Men are also socialized to be more competitive and self-congratulatory, meaning that their communication may be seen as dedicated and their behaviors seen as powerful, and that when their work isn’t noticed they will be more likely to make it known to the group rather than take silent credit. Even though we know that the relational elements of a group are crucial for success, even in high-performance teams, that work is not as valued in our society as the task-related work.

Despite the fact that some communication patterns and behaviors related to our typical (and stereotypical) gender socialization affect how we interact in and form perceptions of others in groups, the differences in group communication that used to be attributed to gender in early group communication research seem to be diminishing. This is likely due to the changing organizational cultures from which much group work emerges, which have now had more than sixty years to adjust to women in the workplace. It is also due to a more nuanced understanding of gender-based research, which doesn’t take a stereotypical view from the beginning as many of the early male researchers did. Now, instead of biological sex being assumed as a factor that creates inherent communication differences, group communication scholars see that men and women both exhibit a range of behaviors that are more or less feminine or masculine. It is these gendered behaviors, and not a person’s gender, that seem to have more of an influence on perceptions of group communication. Interestingly, group interactions are still masculinist in that male and female group members prefer a more masculine communication style for task leaders and that both males and females in this role are more likely to adapt to a more masculine communication style. Conversely, men who take on social-emotional leadership behaviors adopt a more feminine communication style. In short, it seems that although masculine communication traits are more often associated with high status positions in groups, both men and women adapt to this expectation and are evaluated similarly (Haslett & Ruebush, 1999).

Other demographic categories are also influential in group communication and decision making. In general, group members have an easier time communicating when they are more similar than different in terms of race and age. This ease of communication can make group work more efficient, but the homogeneity may sacrifice some creativity. As we learned earlier, groups that are diverse (e.g., they have members of different races and generations) benefit from the diversity of perspectives in terms of the quality of decision making and creativity of output.

In terms of age, for the first time since industrialization began, it is common to have three generations of people (and sometimes four) working side by side in an organizational setting. Although four generations often worked together in early factories, they were segregated based on their age group, and a hierarchy existed with older workers at the top and younger workers at the bottom. Today, however, generations interact regularly, and it is not uncommon for an older person to have a leader or supervisor who is younger than him or her (Allen, 2011). The current generations in the US workplace and consequently in work-based groups include the following:

The benefits and challenges that come with diversity of group members are important to consider. Since we will all work in diverse groups, we should be prepared to address potential challenges in order to reap the benefits. Diverse groups may be wise to coordinate social interactions outside of group time in order to find common ground that can help facilitate interaction and increase group cohesion. We should be sensitive but not let sensitivity create fear of “doing something wrong” that then prevents us from having meaningful interactions. Reviewing Chapter 8 “Culture and Communication” will give you useful knowledge to help you navigate both international and domestic diversity and increase your communication competence in small groups and elsewhere.

Key Takeaways

The group problem-solving process has five steps:

Several factors influence the decision-making process:

Adams, K., and Gloria G. Galanes, Communicating in Groups: Applications and Skills , 7th ed. (Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2009), 220–21.

Allen, B. J., Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity , 2nd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2011), 5.

Bormann, E. G., and Nancy C. Bormann, Effective Small Group Communication , 4th ed. (Santa Rosa, CA: Burgess CA, 1988), 112–13.

Clarke, G., “The Silent Generation Revisited,” Time, June 29, 1970, 46.

Cragan, J. F., and David W. Wright, Communication in Small Group Discussions: An Integrated Approach , 3rd ed. (St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1991), 77–78.

de Bono, E., Six Thinking Hats (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1985).

Delbecq, A. L., and Andrew H. Ven de Ven, “A Group Process Model for Problem Identification and Program Planning,” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 7, no. 4 (1971): 466–92.

Haslett, B. B., and Jenn Ruebush, “What Differences Do Individual Differences in Groups Make?: The Effects of Individuals, Culture, and Group Composition,” in The Handbook of Group Communication Theory and Research , ed. Lawrence R. Frey (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1999), 133.

Napier, R. W., and Matti K. Gershenfeld, Groups: Theory and Experience , 7th ed. (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), 292.

Osborn, A. F., Applied Imagination (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959).

Spranger, E., Types of Men (New York: Steckert, 1928).

Stanton, C., “How to Deliver Group Presentations: The Unified Team Approach,” Six Minutes Speaking and Presentation Skills , November 3, 2009, accessed August 28, 2012, .

Thomas, D. C., “Cultural Diversity and Work Group Effectiveness: An Experimental Study,” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 30, no. 2 (1999): 242–63.

Communication in the Real World by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Decision Making and Problem Solving

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Managers are constantly called upon to make decisions in order to solve problems. Decision making and problem solving are ongoing processes of evaluating situations or problems, considering alternatives, making choices, and following them up with the necessary actions. Sometimes the decision-making process is extremely short, and mental reflection is essentially instantaneous. In other situations, the process can drag on for weeks or even months. The entire decision-making process is dependent upon the right information being available to the right people at the right times.

The decision-making process involves the following steps: 1. Identifying the problems 2. Identify decision criteria 3. Allocating weights to criteria 4. Develop alternatives. 5. Analyze the alternatives. 6. Select the best alternative. 7. Implement the decision. 8. Establish a control and evaluation system. 1. Identifying the problems In this step, the problem is thoroughly analysed. There are a couple of questions one should ask when it comes to identifying the purpose of the decision. * What exactly is the problem? * Why the problem should be solved? Who are the affected parties of the problem? * Does the problem have a deadline or a specific time-line? 2.

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Identifying decision criteria The most obviously troubling situations found in an organization can usually be identified as decision crietria of underlying problems (Table 1). These citeria all indicate that something is wrong with an organization, but they don’t identify root causes. A successful manager doesn’t just attack the decision criteria but he works to uncover the factors that cause. TABLE 1| Identifying Decision Criteria| Criteria | Underlying Problem|

Low profits and/or declining sales| Poor market research| High costs| Poor design process; poorly trained employees| Low morale| Lack of communication between management and subordinates| High employee turnover| Rate of pay too low; job design not suitable| High rate of absenteeism| Employees believe that they are not valued| | 3.

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Allocating weights to criteria Assigning a weight to each item places the items in the correct priority order of their importance in the decision-making process. 4. Developing alternatives Time pressures frequently cause a manager to move forward after considering only the first or most obvious answers.

However, successful problem solving requires thorough examination of the challenge, and a quick answer may not result in a permanent solution. Thus, a manager should think through and investigate several alternative solutions to a single problem before making a quick decision. One of the best known methods for developing alternatives is throughbrainstorming, where a group works together to generate ideas and alternative solutions. The assumption behind brainstorming is that the group dynamic stimulates thinking — one person’s ideas, no matter how outrageous, can generate ideas from the others in the group.

Ideally, this spawning of ideas is contagious, and before long, lots of suggestions and ideas flow. Brainstorming usually requires 30 minutes to an hour. The following specific rules should be followed during brainstorming sessions: * Concentrate on the problem at hand. This rule keeps the discussion very specific and avoids the group’s tendency to address the events leading up to the current problem. * Entertain all ideas. In fact, the more ideas that comes up, the better. In other words, there are no bad ideas. Encouragement of the group to freely offer all thoughts on the subject is important.

Participants should be encouraged to present ideas no matter how ridiculous they seem, because such ideas may spark a creative thought on the part of someone else. * Refrain from allowing members to evaluate others’ ideas on the spot. All judgments should be deferred until all thoughts are presented, and the group concurs on the best ideas. Although brainstorming is the most common technique to develop alternative solutions, managers can use several other ways to help develop solutions for example: * Nominal group technique.

This method involves the use of a highly structured meeting, complete with an agenda, and restricts discussion or interpersonal communication during the decision-making process. This technique is useful because it ensures that every group member has equal input in the decision-making process. It also avoids some of the pitfalls, such as pressure to conform, group dominance, hostility, and conflict, that can plague a more interactive, spontaneous, unstructured forum such as brainstorming. 5. Analyzing alternatives The purpose of this step is to decide the relative merits of each idea.

Managers must identify the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative solution before making a final decision. Evaluating the alternatives can be done in numerous ways. Here are a few possibilities: * Determine the pros and cons of each alternative. * Perform a cost-benefit analysis for each alternative. * Weight each factor important in the decision, ranking each alternative relative to its ability to meet each factor, and then multiply by a probability factor to provide a final value for each alternative. Regardless of the method used, a manager needs to evaluate each alternative in terms of its * Feasibility – Can it be done? Effectiveness – How well does it resolve the problem situation? * Consequences – What will be its costs (financial and nonfinancial) to the organization? 6. Selecting an alternatives After a manager has analyzed all the alternatives, she must decide on the best one. The best alternative is the one that produces the most advantages and the fewest serious disadvantages. Sometimes, the selection process can be fairly straightforward, such as the alternative with the most pros and fewest cons. Other times, the optimal solution is a combination of several alternatives. Sometimes, though, the best alternative may not be obvious.

That’s when a manager must decide which alternative is the most feasible and effective, coupled with which carries the lowest costs to the organization. (See the preceding section. ) Probability estimates, where analysis of each alternative’s chances of success takes place, often come into play at this point in the decision-making process. In those cases, a manager simply selects the alternative with the highest probability of success. 7. Implementing the alternative Managers are paid to make decisions, but they are also paid to get results from these decisions. Positive results must follow decisions.

Everyone involved with the decision must know his or her role in ensuring a successful outcome. To make certain that employees understand their roles, managers must thoughtfully devise programs, procedures, rules, or policies to help aid them in the problem-solving process. 8. Evaluating decision effectiveness Even the most experienced business owners can learn from their mistakes. Always monitor the results of strategic decisions you make as a small business owner; be ready to adapt your plan as necessary, or to switch to another potential solution if your chosen solution does not work out the way you expected.

Conclusion When it comes to making decisions, one should always weigh the positive and negative business consequences and should favour the positive outcomes. This avoids the possible losses to the organization and keeps the company running with a sustained growth. Sometimes, avoiding decision-making seems easier; specially, when we get into a lot of confrontation after making the tough decision. But, making the decisions and accepting its consequences is the only way to stay in control of our corporate life and time.

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Decision Making and Problem Solving

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Module 1 Quiz

9. Question 9 For a decision tree, there are only two options and two outcomes.

Module 2 Quiz

Information in a descending hierarchical order

All of the options are correct

Useful for problem solving

Tabulate the data

All of these options are correct

Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone Diagram and Ishikawa Diagram

People and Materials

To show us information as it actually exists

Typical bell curve

Central tendency

Module 3 Quiz

Only if there is a group member who is an expert on the subject of the decision and who gains the trust of all the members.

2. Question 2 Why might a group allow an expert to make a decision for them?

When an expert’s decision needs to be made quickly and is binding on all group members.

3. Question 3 A situation in which a group’s leader seeks advice from the other group members before making a final decision is an example of:

“Consensus-based” decision making

“Minority-based” decision making with universal buy-in

It ensures that everyone agrees with the decision in the end.

It fairly addresses everyone’s point of view by involving them in the discussion.

The subject of the decision evokes emotional feelings that may cloud understanding.

None of these

Module 4 Quiz

1. Question 1 What is a Run Chart?

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solving problems and making decisions quizlet

Problem Solving and Decision Making

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What did you eat for breakfast this morning? Did you choose cereal or a bagel? Why? Or what if you missed the bus? How did you solve this problem? Problem-solving and decision-making are skills we use all day, every day. But what is actually involved in these processes? Let's read on and find out.

In this article, we will begin by discussing the similarities and differences between problem-solving and decision-making.

Then, we'll lay out the problem-solving and decision-making steps.

As we continue, we'll look at the criteria for decision-making and problem-solving.

We will then list the types of problems in decision-making.

Finally, we'll take a look at a few examples of decision-making problems.

Problem-Solving and Decision-Making: Similarities and Differences

Both problem-solving and decision-making are mental processes that involve the use of information to determine an action. Both require identification and evaluation. Decision-making may be part of problem-solving and problem-solving may be part of decision-making.

However problem-solving and decision-making have noticeable differences.

Problem-solving means that a person is trying to find a solution to a problem, whether it's ongoing, intermittent, or a one-time failure.

Decision-making, on the other hand, requires a person to make choices or to choose between options (or not).

Decision-making is also usually clearer at the start than problem-solving. When making a decision the choices are often quite clear and clearly presented. But with problem-solving, the biggest part of the battle might be identifying what the problem itself is.

A detective must solve the problem by solving a case. A judge must make decisions such as determining bail, sentencing, and other trial procedures.

Also, the process of problem-solving and decision-making can look different in the brain. The point at which you find a solution to a problem can often feel like a lightbulb going off in your head. In some ways, that is similar to what occurs in the brain.

Research shows that the frontal lobe (responsible for focusing attention) is most active while a person is trying to solve a problem. But once they have found the solution, suddenly, there is a burst of activity in the right temporal lobe (Myers, 2014). Making a decision, however, is usually a much more gradual process.

Problem Solving and Decision Making, cartoon with thought bubble then lightbulb, StudySmarter

Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Steps

Problem-solving and decision-making steps can look very similar. However, to go about them the same exact way would be an incorrect approach. Let's take a look at the specific steps in problem-solving and decision-making.

Problem-Solving Steps

The steps are: specify the problem, analyze the problem, formulate solutions, evaluate solutions, choose a solution, and evaluate the outcome.

1. Specify the Problem

As mentioned earlier, one of the most challenging steps in problem-solving is identifying what the problem is in the first place. A good way to start is to determine what the goal state is and how it differs from the present state.

2. Analyze the Problem

What are the potential causes of the problem? What does the presentation of this problem mean for the situation? Try to research the problem as much as possible and collect as much information as you can.

3. Formulate Solutions

Begin formulating solutions. but don't feel pressured to know exactly what to do at this stage – simply brainstorm as many solutions as possible and be creative. Consider other problems or situations you've faced in the past and if you can apply what you learned to this problem.

4. Evaluate Solutions

Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each solution and how well it will actually solve the problem. Try to imagine the possible outcomes of each solution. Consider whether the solution solves all of the problem or only parts of it.

5. Choose a Solution

This is the "aha" moment in problem-solving. We often arrive at a solution through insight. Insight is the sudden realization of the solution to a problem. You have considered several possibilities and finally, the right one has finally clicked.

6. Evaluate the outcome

None of us are capable of finding the perfect solution to our problems 100% of the time. Sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board. Don't be discouraged! The last step to problem-solving is to evaluate the outcome of the solution. Even if it is not the outcome you expected, you have the opportunity to learn from it.

Decision-Making Steps

Decision-making may involve problem-solving – but not always. The six steps to problem-solving are as follows: specify the problem, analyze the problem, formulate solutions, evaluate possible solutions, choose a solution, and evaluate the outcome.

1. Identify the Decision or Goal

First, identify what your goal is and why you need to make a decision. Knowing why you're making a decision makes it more likely you'll stick with it and defend it.

2. Gather Information

What information do you need to understand the situation and the decision you have to make? Reach out to people you trust and those who have a better understanding than you.

3. Identify Alternatives

Next, identify what your options are. It is important to note that when making a decision, you are not required to make a choice between the alternatives. But even not making a choice is a decision that you consciously make.

Problem Solving and Decision Making, woman pointing in opposite directions, StudySmarter

4. Weigh the Evidence

This is a great time to use a pros and cons list. Consider the impact each alternative may have and potential outcomes.

5. Choose Among Alternatives

Finally, you are ready to choose an alternative. This step may be intimidating, but considering the following questions may help you decide the best path forward:

Is this solution compatible with my priorities?

Is there any risk involved in this solution and is it worth the risk?

Is this a practical solution or would it be far too difficult or even impossible?

6. Take Action

While not always required after solving a problem, making a decision almost always requires you to take action.

You've chosen what college to go to, now you must respond to your acceptance letters and notify the schools you don't want to go to that you will not be attending.

7. Evaluate the outcome

Similar to problem-solving, it would be unrealistic for any of us to know all the information or see every perspective while making a decision. Evaluate the consequences – good or bad – of your decision and then adjust future decisions accordingly.

Criteria for Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

The criteria for decision-making and problem-solving include abstract thinking and reasoning and the ability to use decision-making and problem-solving methods.

Abstract Thinking and Reasoning

To make decisions, a person should at least have the capacity to weigh various options . Young children might not be able to grasp abstract thinking and reasoning, as this skill doesn't develop until adolescence .

If you ask a toddler what they want for lunch, it's best to give them only a couple of options, like chicken nuggets or Mac-n-cheese.

Leaving their options wide open or giving them too many options will probably lead to them saying no or choosing something they don't actually want and guaranteeing a tantrum later.

The same could be said for problem-solving: a person must have the capacity to think of as many solutions as possible which requires abstract thinking and reasoning. One should be able to recognize a problem and determine its significance.

Decision-Making and Problem-Solving Methods

Many times when solving a problem, our strategy is to just do trial and error. Try one solution, if it doesn't work, try another, and another, and another until the problem is solved. Or we may use other techniques to solve a problem. For example, we may try to solve a problem using whatever method we know will guarantee the correct solution or algorithm .

Algorithms are logical rules or procedures that are guaranteed to generate the correct solution to a problem.

Algorithms are most often used in mathematics or chemistry because if you know how to use a formula correctly, you will always get the correct answer. This may be an effective way to solve some problems, but it can be time-consuming.

You are asked to figure out what word can be formed using the following letters: YSCPOGLHOY. You could use an algorithm by finding all the thousands of possible combinations until you land on the correct word. However, this would take far too long.

An alternative method to solve the problem is to use the same methods or information we used to solve similar problems. This is called heuristics .

Heuristics are shortcuts we use that allow us to solve problems and make judgments efficiently.

Types of Problems in Decision-Making

Most of the decisions we make day-to-day require very little time and effort. We follow our intuition to decide which way to take home based on traffic or make snap judgments when deciding which candy to take from the candy jar. Using shortcuts such as heuristics saves us time but without much conscious awareness. This will inevitably lead to errors. Let's take a look at the problems in decision-making including confirmation bias , representative heuristic, availability heuristic , and overconfidence.

Problems in Decision-making

Confirmation bias.

Throughout life, we all begin to form concrete ideas and beliefs. When we are more eager to seek evidence in favor of our ideas or beliefs than against them, this is called confirmation bias. This is a consequence of fixation (inability to see other perspectives) and mental set (solving problems the way we've solved similar ones before).

Problem Solving and Decision Making, three fingers pointing at person of color, StudySmarter

Representativeness Heuristic

We all build prototypes (mental image) of people, places, and things in our world. Our brains form prototypes to understand and categorize our world, but we get into trouble when we believe our prototypes are always true. The representativeness heuristic is when we estimate the likelihood of an event based on whether or not it fits the prototypes we have formed of people, places, things, or events.

A person walks into the store with leather pants, a leather jacket, and tattoos all over. Are they more likely to be a biker or a school teacher? If you answered a biker, then you are using your prototype of what a biker looks like to make your decision, rather than using the base rate. It's more likely that person is a teacher because there are far more teachers in the world than bikers.

Availability Heuristic

We may also fall victim to the availability heuristic while making decisions. The availability heuristic is when we estimate the likelihood of events based on how available they are in our memory or how vivid similar events occurred previously. The availability heuristic can lead to us placing our fear in the wrong places. It is far more likely for a person to die from heart disease than a shark attack but we are much more afraid of sharks than we are of unhealthy foods like donuts.


Confidence is not a bad thing. People who have a lot of self-confidence usually live happily, make tough decisions easily, and seem competent. But when we are too confident in the accuracy of our beliefs and judgments, it may lead to errors. In fact, people who are overconfident are usually more likely to be wrong. Stockbrokers often fall victim to this when they are sure they can outsmart the stock market, and go all-in on a stock only to lose everything. However, if we get clear feedback and actually receive it, we may be able to avoid the pitfalls of overconfidence.

Decision-Making Problems: Examples

The representativeness heuristic can easily lead to stereotypes and discrimination . Following 9/11, Arab Americans often faced discrimination because people began to form a prototype (really a stereotype) of what terrorists looked like. For example, Arab Americans might have experienced more strenuous security checks at the airport.

Even though almost all Arab-Americans are peace-loving people, many began to assume if they looked the part they were "more likely" to be terrorists. This still continues today. White supremacy groups have been responsible for more terrorist attacks in America than any other organization according to the New York Times (2020) , yet many people still feel more threatened by a man in a turban than a white man.

Problem Solving and Decision Making - Key takeaways

Frequently Asked Questions about Problem Solving and Decision Making

--> what is problem solving and decision making.

Problem-solving means that a person is trying to find a solution to a problem, whether it's ongoing, intermittent, or a one-time failure. 

--> What is the difference between problem-solving and decision-making?

Problem-solving might not require action while decision-making almost always requires an action to follow.

--> What process involves influencing group problem solving and decision making?

The process of group problem-solving and decision-making should involve defining the problem, determining the cause, developing alternatives, assessing the consequences, and developing an action plan. 

--> Why are decision making and problem-solving important?

Decision-making and problem-solving are important skills that can be used in all aspects of life including work, family, friends, relationships, and learning. 

--> What are the steps in problem-solving and decision-making?

Problem-solving and decision-making involves the following: 

1. Identify the decision or problem

2. Gathering information or analyzing the problem

3. Finding solutions or considering alternatives, 

4. Choose a solution or choice

5. Evaluate the outcome

Final Problem Solving and Decision Making Quiz

True or False? Decision-making is also usually clearer at the start than problem-solving.

Show answer

Show question

How does problem-solving resemble a light bulb going off in the brain?

 Research shows that the frontal lobe (responsible for focusing attention) is most active while a person is trying to solve a problem. But once they have found the solution, suddenly, there is a burst of activity in the right temporal lobe (Myers, 2014.).

What is the first step of problem-solving?

Specify the problem

__________ are logical rules or procedures that are guaranteed to generate the correct solution to a problem.

What are heuristics?

Heuristics are shortcuts we use that allow us to solve problems and make judgments efficiently.  

Consider the following letters: YSCPOGLHOY. What problem-solving method should you use to figure out what word the letters form?

When we are more eager to seek evidence in favor of our ideas or beliefs than against them, this is called _____________.

confirmation bias

The ______________ is when we estimate the likelihood of an event based on whether or not it fits the prototypes we have formed of people, places, things, or events.

representativeness heuristic

 _______________ is when we estimate the likelihood of events based on how available they are in our memory or how vivid similar events occurred previously.

Availability heuristic

A person walks into the store with leather pants, a leather jacket, and tattoos all over. Are they more likely to be a biker or a school teacher? If a person assumed the person that walked in is a biker, they are using what type of decision-making problem? 

Representativeness heuristic

True or False? When we are too confident in the accuracy of our beliefs and judgments, it may lead to errors.

True or False? The representativeness heuristic rarely leads to stereotypes and discrimination.

True or False? We usually develop strong problem-solving and decision-making skills during early childhood. 

Why is it best to give a toddler only a couple of options for lunch rather than broadly asking them to decide what they want to eat?

Young children might not be able to grasp abstract thinking and reasoning as this skill doesn't develop until adolescence.

What are three questions you could ask yourself while choosing among the alternatives in decision-making?

Is this a practical solution or would it be far too difficult and even impossible?

When does problem-solving happen?

When a person is trying to find a solution to a problem, whether it's ongoing, intermittent, or a one-time failure

When does decision-making happen?

When a person has to choose between options (or not)

What similarities do problem-solving and decision-making share?

Identification and evaluation

Which has a more gradual increase of brain activity?


What is the correct order of steps when problem-solving?

Specify the problem, analyze the problem, formulate solutions, evaluate solutions, choose a solution, evaluate the outcome

Why is evaluating the outcome an important step in problem-solving?

It allows you to go back and make sure you found the right answer. If not, this gives you an opportunity to try to find another answer. 

Why is identifying alternatives an important step in decision-making?

You fully understand all the options you are choosing between

Why is gathering information an important step in the decision-making process?

You need to get more information in order to be knowledgable when making your decision

Can a child make decisions?

Yes, but not well-thought out ones. Abstract thinking and reasoning are important steps in decision-making which are qualities that children are still developing. 

What is a beneficial attribute about an algorithm?

It will get you the right answer, guaranteed

What is something bad about the use of an algorithm?

It can be very time-consuming

What is a beneficial attribute of heuristics?

It can help you use mental shortcuts to get to the answer quicker

What is a negative attribute of heuristics?

You won't always get the right answer

Why is confirmation bias a problem in decision-making?

It causes us to see things a certain way (the way we want them to) and will find people or sources that will agree with what we believe, swaying our decision

Why is overconfidence a problem when it comes to decision-making?

Someone who is overconfident is more likely to make the wrong decision 

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The Systematic Problem-Solving (SPS) Method:

Make better decisions tom g. stevens phd.

Solving problems is important in every area of human thinking. Learning general problem-solving skills can therefore help you improve your ability to cope with every area of your life. All disciplines of philosophy, business, science, and humanities have developed their own approach to solving problems. Remarkably, the problem-solving models developed by each of these areas are strikingly similar. I describe a simple problem-solving process that you can use to solve almost all problems.

Stages of the problem-solving process. The famous psychologist, Dr. Carl Rogers, was one of the first to help us understand how important self-exploration and problem-solving are for overcoming all types of personal, psychological, and daily-living problems. (1);

Consciously going through each of these four stages when solving any complex problem can be very useful. Following are the five stages of the problem-solving method.






During this stage, we gather all of the information we can about both external aspects of the problem and internal aspects. Good information gathering is not an easy process. Scientists spend their whole lives trying to learn about some very small piece of the world. The type of information-gathering process we use will depend upon the type of problem we are trying to solve. For information about the world the following are powerful skills to use.

Learning how to become an expert at identifying problems and finding causes is essential to become an expert in any field. The above skills are useful in solving many types of problems--even intra-personal ones. However, the focus of this book is how to be happy; and the key to happiness almost always involves not just external causes but internal ones as well.

It is usually much easier for most of us to observe an external event than an internal one. We have our external sensory organs to see and hear external events, but not internal ones. How do we observe that which we cannot see? We can learn to be better observers of our emotions, self-talk, and images.

The self-exploration process described above provides enough information to make you an expert at self-exploration. That is one of the most essential parts of developing your own inner therapist.


Gather all the best information you can about possible solutions. Use brainstorming techniques, observe and consult with people who have overcome similar problems, read relevant material, consult experts, and recall your own relevant past experience. Look at both internal and external solutions.

Once you learn so many different routes to happiness, then you will be truly free to choose to be happy in almost any situation you face in life. The actual choice is made in stage 3 of the /problem-solving process. The appendix contains a very useful decision-making model for helping you make complex choices such as choosing a career or relationship. The following is a simple approach to making a decision between alternatives. (See Carkhuff Decision-Making Model, below, for a method for making complex decisions--for career or life planning.);

(1); List all the alternatives you are considering

(2); List all of the values or criteria that will be affected by the decision

(3); Evaluate each alternative by each criteria or value

(4); Choose the alternative which you predict will satisfy the criteria the best and lead to your greatest overall happiness

STAGE 4:  PLANNING AND ACTION (Experimenting);

Many decisions are made, but never implemented. See that you follow-up with good planning. Once you have made your choice, you can use some of the planning methods suggested in the O-PATSM method from chapter 11 to make sure that you follow through with your decision.

This is the stage of acting on your decision. Many people fear making mistakes and failure as if these were some terrible sins that they should never commit. That view of life of life makes every decision and action seem very serious and they often become very timid people who lack creativity and are plagued by guilt and fear of failure. Instead we can view every action as an experiment. If one of our overall goals in life is learning and growth, then we can never fail to learn. All people who have accomplished great happiness for themselves and contributed to others have shared the courage to act on their beliefs.


Many people hate to be evaluated and dread finding out the results of what they have done out of fear that the feedback will be negative. These fears can be serious impediments to the growth that can only happen through getting open, accurate feedback.

However, once learning and growth are important goals, then getting feedback becomes highly desirable. How else can we learn? Even negative outcomes can provide valuable information. Of course, almost everyone would rather have outcomes that maximize happiness; but when we don't, we can at least try to maximize our learning. Learning can help maximize happiness in the future.

We can also make the mistakes of dwelling on past mistakes that goes beyond constructive learning and reasonable reparations to victims and of punishing ourselves unnecessarily. Normally, there is no value to punishment--once a lesson has been learned. (2); Keep clear at all times that this problem-solving process is only a tool to serve the overall life goals of increased health, growth, and happiness.

CARKHUFF DECISION-MAKING MODEL:   This particular decision-making model is based upon one by Dr. Robert Carkhuff and follows the general guidelines of a considerable amount of research on how people can make more effective decisions. It can also be used for any other type of decision--from buying a new car to choosing a mate.


The decision-making model will be illustrated in a way which you can use aa an analogy for making your own career decision. In this example, Henry is trying to decide whether to major in psychology or in computer science. Thus he has narrowed his alternatives to the following two:

1); majoring in psychology with a career goal of either going into high school counseling or teaching or 2); majoring in computer science with a possible goal of working as a computer programmer.

These are represented along the top axis of the following matrix.

  ** is the WINNER-it has the most points of the two alternatives


STEP 1-- LIST YOUR CAREER ALTERNATIVES. This is your refined list of alternatives of which majors or occupations you are trying to decide between. Remember, that you can list as many as you want. You can list unusual combinations of simpler alternatives. For Henry those narrowed alternatives were psychology and computer science.

STEP 2--CAREER SELECTION CRITERIA. Review your Career Selection Criteria list and write all the important career selection criteria in the far left column. Note that repeating the same idea or leaving out an important idea can affect the decision outcome.

STEP 3-- CRITERIA WEIGHTS. Evaluate the relative importance to you of each of your Career Selection Criteria on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most important);. Write your answer in the column next to the selection criteria.

STEP 4--ALTERNATIVE EVALUATION SCALE. Each alternative is to be evaluated from the point of view of each selection criterion. You need to think about what this means for each selection criterion. For example Henry determined that for the selection criteria of income , a "minimally acceptable" income would be $25,000 starting with prospects of making up to $50,000 eventually. An outstanding salary would be starting at about $40, 000 with prospects of making up to $100,000.

+5 = Maximum evaluation--outstanding (example: income begin $40,000 go to $100,000 +4, +3, +2, +1 = intermediate values

0 = Minimally acceptable value. (example: income = begin $20,000 go to $45,000);

-1, -2, -3, -4 = intermediate values

-5 = Minimum evaluation--worst possible (example: income < $10,000

STEP 5--EVALUATE EACH ALTERNATIVE BY EACH SELECTION CRITERION. Use the evaluation scale from step 3 to evaluate each alternative from the point of view of each Career Selection Criterion. Give it rating from -5 to +5. In the example above, both alternatives were evaluated on the criterion of "income": Henry gave the psychology income an evaluation of "+2" and computer science income an evaluation of " +4."

STEP 6--MULTIPLY THE CRITERIA WEIGHTS TIMES THE EVALUATIONS. In the example above for the selection criterion of "income," Henry multiplied the criterion weight of "9" times the evaluation of " +2" for "PSYCH" to get a result of "18." That is its SCORE OR POINTS for psychology on the criterion of income. Put it inside of the parentheses. This score of 18 is an overall prediction much Henry's income in psychology will contribute to his overall happiness. Since he had a score of 36 in computer science, he his predicting that he will be much happier with his income in that field.

STEP 7--FIND THE OVERALL SUM OF THE SCORES FOR EACH ALTERNATIVE. Add together the numbers inside the parentheses for each alternative. In the example above, the overall sum for the "PSYCH" alternative is "405."

STEP 8--COMPARE THE ALTERNATIVES WITH EACH OTHER AND WITH THE "IDEAL." The "ideal" is the maximum possible number of points. Once you have determined all the totals and compared them to each other, try to figure out why one alternative came out ahead of another--where it got its points. Play with the points until you think the points match your true feelings and values.

* The alternative with the most points is the one you are predicting will make you the happiest person.

1. 1 Some might argue that Freud was the first. He clearly did describe many helpful techniques. I think that some of his free association techniques are still very useful for helping to find underlying beliefs, images, or cognitive systems which are related to the problem. However, Rogers was the one that more clearly described the stages of self-exploration and problem-solving and the conditions of unconditional positive regard, empathetic understanding, and genuineness on the part of the therapist which seem to be important to the therapeutic process or to any person attempting to feel better.

Robert Carkhuff (one of Roger's pupils); has developed a structured training system for helping people learn these skills. Robert Cash, a personal friend, has further elaborated these skills in his own courses and introduced me to this process. There is a good deal of research supporting the effectiveness of these techniques.

2. 2 This statement does not address the use of punishment as a deterrent to prevent some persons from profiting from their dysfunctional behaviors. For example if behaviors such as murder, robbery, or selling drugs are not given sufficient punishment, some people will engage in these behaviors. A person whose ultimate concern is money and pleasure may deal drugs to make money with little regard to how it affects others. Increasing the cost for a person with those beliefs can reduce the chances they will sell drugs.

Self-Help and other resources on this website (and site map)

Copyright 2021 Tom G. Stevens PhD  

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7 important steps in the decision making process

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshot

The decision making process is a method of gathering information, assessing alternatives, and making a final choice with the goal of making the best decision possible. In this article, we detail the step-by-step process on how to make a good decision and explain different decision making methodologies.

We make decisions every day. Take the bus to work or call a car? Chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Whole milk or two percent?

There's an entire process that goes into making those tiny decisions, and while these are simple, easy choices, how do we end up making more challenging decisions? 

At work, decisions aren't as simple as choosing what kind of milk you want in your latte in the morning. That’s why understanding the decision making process is so important. 

What is the decision making process?

The decision making process is the method of gathering information, assessing alternatives, and, ultimately, making a final choice. 

The 7 steps of the decision making process

Step 1: identify the decision that needs to be made.

When you're identifying the decision, ask yourself a few questions: 

What is the problem that needs to be solved?

What is the goal you plan to achieve by implementing this decision?

How will you measure success?

These questions are all common goal setting techniques that will ultimately help you come up with possible solutions. When the problem is clearly defined, you then have more information to come up with the best decision to solve the problem.

Step 2: Gather relevant information

​Gathering information related to the decision being made is an important step to making an informed decision. Does your team have any historical data as it relates to this issue? Has anybody attempted to solve this problem before?

It's also important to look for information outside of your team or company. Effective decision making requires information from many different sources. Find external resources, whether it’s doing market research, working with a consultant, or talking with colleagues at a different company who have relevant experience. Gathering information helps your team identify different solutions to your problem.

Step 3: Identify alternative solutions

This step requires you to look for many different solutions for the problem at hand. Finding more than one possible alternative is important when it comes to business decision-making, because different stakeholders may have different needs depending on their role. For example, if a company is looking for a work management tool, the design team may have different needs than a development team. Choosing only one solution right off the bat might not be the right course of action. 

Step 4: Weigh the evidence

This is when you take all of the different solutions you’ve come up with and analyze how they would address your initial problem. Your team begins identifying the pros and cons of each option, and eliminating alternatives from those choices.

There are a few common ways your team can analyze and weigh the evidence of options:

Pros and cons list

SWOT analysis

Decision matrix

Step 5: Choose among the alternatives

The next step is to make your final decision. Consider all of the information you've collected and how this decision may affect each stakeholder. 

Sometimes the right decision is not one of the alternatives, but a blend of a few different alternatives. Effective decision-making involves creative problem solving and thinking out of the box, so don't limit you or your teams to clear-cut options.

One of the key values at Asana is to reject false tradeoffs. Choosing just one decision can mean losing benefits in others. If you can, try and find options that go beyond just the alternatives presented.

Step 6: Take action

Once the final decision maker gives the green light, it's time to put the solution into action. Take the time to create an implementation plan so that your team is on the same page for next steps. Then it’s time to put your plan into action and monitor progress to determine whether or not this decision was a good one. 

Step 7: Review your decision and its impact (both good and bad)

Once you’ve made a decision, you can monitor the success metrics you outlined in step 1. This is how you determine whether or not this solution meets your team's criteria of success.

Here are a few questions to consider when reviewing your decision:

Did it solve the problem your team identified in step 1? 

Did this decision impact your team in a positive or negative way?

Which stakeholders benefited from this decision? Which stakeholders were impacted negatively?

If this solution was not the best alternative, your team might benefit from using an iterative form of project management. This enables your team to quickly adapt to changes, and make the best decisions with the resources they have. 

Types of decision making models

While most decision making models revolve around the same seven steps, here are a few different methodologies to help you make a good decision.

​Rational decision making models

This type of decision making model is the most common type that you'll see. It's logical and sequential. The seven steps listed above are an example of the rational decision making model. 

When your decision has a big impact on your team and you need to maximize outcomes, this is the type of decision making process you should use. It requires you to consider a wide range of viewpoints with little bias so you can make the best decision possible. 

Intuitive decision making models

This type of decision making model is dictated not by information or data, but by gut instincts. This form of decision making requires previous experience and pattern recognition to form strong instincts.

This type of decision making is often made by decision makers who have a lot of experience with similar kinds of problems. They have already had proven success with the solution they're looking to implement. 

Creative decision making model

The creative decision making model involves collecting information and insights about a problem and coming up with potential ideas for a solution, similar to the rational decision making model. 

The difference here is that instead of identifying the pros and cons of each alternative, the decision maker enters a period in which they try not to actively think about the solution at all. The goal is to have their subconscious take over and lead them to the right decision, similar to the intuitive decision making model. 

This situation is best used in an iterative process so that teams can test their solutions and adapt as things change.

Track key decisions with a work management tool

Tracking key decisions can be challenging when not documented correctly. Learn more about how a work management tool like Asana can help your team track key decisions, collaborate with teammates, and stay on top of progress all in one place.

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TeacherVision Staff


Problem-solving is the ability to identify and solve problems by applying appropriate skills systematically.

Problem-solving is a process—an ongoing activity in which we take what we know to discover what we don't know. It involves overcoming obstacles by generating hypo-theses, testing those predictions, and arriving at satisfactory solutions.

Problem-solving involves three basic functions:

Seeking information

Generating new knowledge

Making decisions

Problem-solving is, and should be, a very real part of the curriculum. It presupposes that students can take on some of the responsibility for their own learning and can take personal action to solve problems, resolve conflicts, discuss alternatives, and focus on thinking as a vital element of the curriculum. It provides students with opportunities to use their newly acquired knowledge in meaningful, real-life activities and assists them in working at higher levels of thinking (see Levels of Questions ).

Here is a five-stage model that most students can easily memorize and put into action and which has direct applications to many areas of the curriculum as well as everyday life:

Expert Opinion

Here are some techniques that will help students understand the nature of a problem and the conditions that surround it:

It's Elementary

For younger students, illustrations are helpful in organizing data, manipulating information, and outlining the limits of a problem and its possible solution(s). Students can use drawings to help them look at a problem from many different perspectives.

Understand the problem. It's important that students understand the nature of a problem and its related goals. Encourage students to frame a problem in their own words.

Describe any barriers. Students need to be aware of any barriers or constraints that may be preventing them from achieving their goal. In short, what is creating the problem? Encouraging students to verbalize these impediments is always an important step.

Identify various solutions. After the nature and parameters of a problem are understood, students will need to select one or more appropriate strategies to help resolve the problem. Students need to understand that they have many strategies available to them and that no single strategy will work for all problems. Here are some problem-solving possibilities:

Create visual images. Many problem-solvers find it useful to create “mind pictures” of a problem and its potential solutions prior to working on the problem. Mental imaging allows the problem-solvers to map out many dimensions of a problem and “see” it clearly.

Guesstimate. Give students opportunities to engage in some trial-and-error approaches to problem-solving. It should be understood, however, that this is not a singular approach to problem-solving but rather an attempt to gather some preliminary data.

Create a table. A table is an orderly arrangement of data. When students have opportunities to design and create tables of information, they begin to understand that they can group and organize most data relative to a problem.

Use manipulatives. By moving objects around on a table or desk, students can develop patterns and organize elements of a problem into recognizable and visually satisfying components.

Work backward. It's frequently helpful for students to take the data presented at the end of a problem and use a series of computations to arrive at the data presented at the beginning of the problem.

Look for a pattern. Looking for patterns is an important problem-solving strategy because many problems are similar and fall into predictable patterns. A pattern, by definition, is a regular, systematic repetition and may be numerical, visual, or behavioral.

Create a systematic list. Recording information in list form is a process used quite frequently to map out a plan of attack for defining and solving problems. Encourage students to record their ideas in lists to determine regularities, patterns, or similarities between problem elements.

Try out a solution. When working through a strategy or combination of strategies, it will be important for students to …

Keep accurate and up-to-date records of their thoughts, proceedings, and procedures. Recording the data collected, the predictions made, and the strategies used is an important part of the problem solving process.

Try to work through a selected strategy or combination of strategies until it becomes evident that it's not working, it needs to be modified, or it is yielding inappropriate data. As students become more proficient problem-solvers, they should feel comfortable rejecting potential strategies at any time during their quest for solutions.

Monitor with great care the steps undertaken as part of a solution. Although it might be a natural tendency for students to “rush” through a strategy to arrive at a quick answer, encourage them to carefully assess and monitor their progress.

Feel comfortable putting a problem aside for a period of time and tackling it at a later time. For example, scientists rarely come up with a solution the first time they approach a problem. Students should also feel comfortable letting a problem rest for a while and returning to it later.

Evaluate the results. It's vitally important that students have multiple opportunities to assess their own problem-solving skills and the solutions they generate from using those skills. Frequently, students are overly dependent upon teachers to evaluate their performance in the classroom. The process of self-assessment is not easy, however. It involves risk-taking, self-assurance, and a certain level of independence. But it can be effectively promoted by asking students questions such as “How do you feel about your progress so far?” “Are you satisfied with the results you obtained?” and “Why do you believe this is an appropriate response to the problem?”

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