Family Life, Spiritual Formation

6 Steps to Making a Wise Decision

One day over Christmas break, our family had a decision to make.

A few months earlier, sometime in September (before Peter’s stroke), I had made a reservation for us to take a little trip down to Branson, Missouri—including a two-day stop in St. Louis to visit the City Museum on the way.

The problem was, as our departure day drew near, each family member had a drastically different view of our mini-vacation plans.

Practical Peter thought we should go. We had made the reservation, so we should follow through—even though he still tired very quickly, and the fast-and-furious road trip would be anything but restful.

Always-accommodating Mum was also game to go, but she wanted to do whatever served the family best.

Ever-adventurous Amelia was (as usual) the most enthusiastic of the bunch. She leaped around the house, unable to contain her excitement. She started “packing” days ahead of time—stuffing everything she could possibly want into every bag she could find.

Homebody Daryl just wanted to stay put. He had a long list of activities he wanted to do in and around the house, and sitting for hours in the car didn’t sound like his idea of fun.

I sort of agreed with him. While I typically love road trips…per normal, I also had my own tyrannical To-Do List, and my time off of work was swiftly coming to an end.

Two days before we were to leave, a conversation about the trip turned into a full-blown expression of fury—until I decided to call for a “time out” and a family meeting to regroup and talk it out.

A few minutes later we gathered in the living room, and I decided to try a different approach. I walked our little family through the following Reflective Thinking Process, a group decision-making technique that I teach my college students.

And low and behold, it worked wonders that day. Everyone was heard. Each person’s needs were considered. And we came to a conclusion that every family member agreed was good.

Below are the six steps we used. Of course, they can be modified to meet your particular needs. They can be utilized when you’re making a decision on your own, but I think they are particularly helpful when the situation involves several stakeholders.

Also, perhaps it goes without saying that each step should be plastered with prayer.

Step 1: Understand the Situation.

Take the time to answer a few foundational questions, such as:

  • Who should be a part of this decision?  
  • What resources are available and important for us to utilize?
  • When does this decision need to be made?

Step 2: Clarify the Question.

Express your “problem” in the form of an effective discussion question.

  • The question should NOT offer a solution.
  • It should be open-ended in order to generate good conversation and an abundance of ideas.
  • It should not be answerable with a simple yes/no.

For example, in our family’s situation, it was better for us to focus on the question “what should we do this weekend?” rather than “should we go to Branson? Yes or no.” This simple reframing opens up our thinking to many more possibilities that we might not have otherwise considered.

Step 3: Research the Facts.

Gather all of the information the group needs to make their decision. Depending on the situation, this can take minutes—or it can take hours, days, even months or years. When possible, take your time, and research well.

This is also the time to get every group member’s needs and initial opinions on the table.

During our family meeting, we looked up things to do in Branson, the hours of the St. Louis City Museum, the cancellation policy on our resort reservation—and so on. We also listened as each family member explained why he or she did or did not want to go.

Step 4: Establish the Criteria.

Once the researching phase is done, you are ready to formulate your criteria. What must be true of the solution you choose?

You may have one list of essential criteria and another list of optional points. You might rank your criteria from “most crucial” to “would be nice, if possible.” I believe that one of our criteria should always be: This solution must glorify our God.

Having this clear and agreed-upon list of criteria is key.

That day in the living room, we made sure that each family member was able to contribute to the criteria. Amelia’s main concern was having fun and adventure. Peter needed rest. Daryl wanted time at home to play and work on his projects. I hoped to get a few key things done. And so we made our list.

Step 5: Discover the Possibilities.

With your criteria in hand, it’s time to brainstorm possible solutions.

In a good brainstorm session, every participant must turn off his/her inner-critic. No idea is a bad idea—no matter how wild or unrealistic it initially sounds. One crazy comment might lead to another unconventional or creative proposal which might lead to the best possibility of all. Thinking “outside of the box” should be welcomed and encouraged!

Most importantly, don’t cut off the brainstorm step too soon! Even if a strong solution is offered early on, keep going. You may even want to pause the brainstorm stage and come back to it some time later. This gives your group members time to ponder. It gives your internal processors the opportunity to mull over the situation. And they may very well come back to the group at a subsequent meeting with the most creative ideas yet.

Step 6: Make a Decision.

Finally, evaluate each possible solution against your criteria. If you’re a visual person like I am, you might even create a chart to assist in this process.

Narrow down your options to the one(s) that meet the most criteria. Then, if you still have a few strong contenders, decide on the option that you will implement first.

This decision can be made by a simple vote. You can utilize a ballot whereby each group member assigns points to the top five options and the possibility that receives the most points “wins.” Or perhaps most effectively—you can keep talking until the whole group comes to a consensus—a solution that every member can get behind.

In December, our family ended up taking an abbreviated trip just to St. Louis, and we spent a fun day at the one-of-a-kind City Museum. It satisfied Amelia’s desire for excitement and Daryl’s longing for some quiet time at home. Peter got more rest, and I accomplished more of the projects on my list. Everyone wins! Not to mention the fact that we came to that conclusion via a civilized conversation—rather than a heated argument. Win-win-win.

Making a Decision vs. Following Our Call

Why include this post on decision making in my series on Calling?

I believe it plays an important (if not obvious) role.

Making wise decisions goes hand-in-hand with “following our call.” As we noted in last week’s post, we all have a general calling from God to know Him and follow Him wherever He leads. To love Him and love others and grow in discipleship.

But He does not always provide us with the special and specific call we might desire. He doesn’t always give us the writing on the wall.

Often, He simply wants us to make wise decisions about how we will spend the resources He has given—our time and our lives. Thankfully, He has given us His Word and His Spirit and wise advisers—and tools like the above steps—to assist us in this process.

This is the sixth post in a series on how to clarify our CALLING.  Read the introductory post here.  And stay tuned for more posts in the weeks to come.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and stories on the subject!

I invite you to email me, comment here, or find me on Facebook.

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