4 great questions to help with your decision-making

4 great questions to help with your decision-making

Not long ago, I was coaching a leader who was faced with a big decision he had to make. The decision had huge implications not only for the organisation – but also, if he was honest, for himself. The stakes were high. The pressure palpable. And he was in a pickle. Stucksville.

So, when he turned up for his coaching session, he wanted to find a way through. To become clearer on what to do next and which route he should take.

Below are some of the questions we used in his coaching session and that helped him find a way forward. I’ve also used these questions on myself when I’m facing a big decision, and they’ve been super helpful for me too. And now, I’ve decided to share them with you in this week’s post of The Leader’s Digest.

You may not be facing a decision as big as my client but, as a leader, you must make decisions every day. It’s a skill worth working on.

Here are the 4 questions we used:

  1. Is there a third option?

In their excellent book Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath warn us to ‘beware the binary’. Narrow framing is a common decision-making trap. To escape narrow frames, we need to be aware of “whether or not” decisions. Instead, they suggest that when facing a decision between two options, ask:

“Is there a third option? Or “is there any way we can do both?”

And another strategy they refer to as “vanishing options”, urges us to say:

“You cannot choose any of the current options you’re considering. What else could you do?”

Although my client had already explored the options, asking these questions one final time, gave him confidence that the two options left on the table were the right ones given the information he had. It also helped to clarify his thinking around his messaging to key stakeholders as to why the third (obvious) option was a no-go.

  1. If this was happening to a good friend of mine, what advice would I give them?

This is one of my favorite coaching questions because so often when we’re in our own head, we can’t see the wood from the trees. But this question gets us outside our head long enough to adopt a more objective perspective. Almost every time I have asked a client this question, they’ve come up with a useful piece of advice for themselves! After the first answer, ask yourself again, “and what else?”

My client’s answer to this was brilliant and so simple, but he hadn’t been able to access this gem until he used this question on himself and answered out loud. It didn’t give him the answer to the decision, but it gave him some useful next steps to help him reach that decision.

  1. If I was following my values in this decision, what would they say to me?

I’ve written about it before here and here. Values act as your compass in leadership. My client was very clear about his values (bonus) and when I asked him this question, he immediately found clarity to an important aspect of his decision. It wasn’t the easiest path, but he knew it was one which aligned the most with his values. This brought him comfort. And he reckoned years later, that’s what he would remember when he thought about having made this decision.

  1. What decision-making biases might be at play here?

Decision-making is awash with biases. Sunk cost bias, anchoring bias, confirmation bias. All the biases. We all suffer from them. The trick is knowing which ones might be at play when you’re faced with a decision. This article by Psychology Today has a disconcerting little list of the common ones we fall prey to.

During this client’s coaching session we explored which decision-making biases might be at play for him. Uncomfortable as it was, he uncovered several that he’d been unaware of. He also identified a key stakeholder whose opinion he had not sought yet and whose thoughts would be valuable for him to hear before he made his decision.

My client has found a way forward. He’s made his decision. In his mind it’s still too early to know if it’s the right decision, but he feels some comfort from the fact that in making the decision, he’s been thoughtful and thorough to the best of his ability. Asking these questions helped him get clarity.

So, the next time you are faced with a decision as a leader, ask yourself these coaching questions. And if you have any good decision-making coaching questions, share them with us below – I’d love to learn some more ?


Belinda Reburn
June 15, 2022 AT 8:24AM

Thank you. This was great and insightful for anyone at any level.

Jen Webb-Bowen
June 15, 2022 AT 9:27PM

Loved this post, thanks Suzi.

June 17, 2022 AT 9:12AM

GREAT content, Suzi. I've been doing MarketingSales Projects for 50+ years. MY questions would be a little different; I wish I were your Publisher/Producer!

June 17, 2022 AT 5:47PM

I loved this article it is often as leaders that we need to assess our ways of thinking, this article helped me do just that.

June 18, 2022 AT 7:35AM

What you wrote is VALID for validating decisions.

You seem to advocate establishing distance between emotions & logical reasoning plus trying different perspectives. That distance is important.

Though emotional reasons can be important for morale, logic is necessary for decreasing stress & maintaining long-term total health.

Emotions rise & fall minute-by-minute. Logic should be long-term & depends on conditions, so what’s logical can change when conditions change. If something FEELS right, how long will it seem right?

Are condition changes already emerging? Will values be adjusted with those changes? How are values limiting or expanding options now? Will those limited or expanded options be viable when changes are complete?

If future options would better fit new conditions, would those options fit your current or updated values?

Do current negative emotions indicate you’re uncomfortable with changes generally or are you hesitant about ramifications of your actions? Are negative emotions really intuition indicating caution?

Your suggestions can validate intuition or reveal illogical conclusions.

June 22, 2022 AT 7:59AM

Great post, Suzi! I really enjoyed it, especially the recommendation to identify biases. So often overlooked! I think these questions are applicable in so many situations. For example, in medicine we often ask what advice we would give our mother in a clinical situation, very similar to your question about what would you tell a close friend. I would only add maybe a question about the best and worst consequences of the decision that you make and where each would leave you. Thanks!

June 22, 2022 AT 10:54AM

Thanks Jonathan. Love the best/worst consequences question too!

June 23, 2022 AT 12:19PM

This content came at a perfect time for me. I just have to reiterate that making decisions that align with your values id critical. Sometimes, it's not the popular decision but I think it will help you avoid unnecessary issues later. It is so hard to go against your values and integrity. Thanks for the guidance.

Brittney C.
June 26, 2022 AT 5:54PM

Hi Suzi! Great Content, I really resonated with this article. The 4 questions mentioned in this article are a road map to effective decision making. This content is helpful, especially for indecisiveness (which I struggle with). One of the questions that I most appreciated was, "if I was following my values in this decision, what would they say to me?" I agree that it is important to lead our decisions with our personal values, as this will allow us to make decisions that align with principles that guide our lives. Also, I liked how you included decision-making biases as this can negatively affect the decision making process. This was very insightful!

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