Do you struggle with feeling confident in making quick decisions? If so, you’re not alone. Read here for tips to build your confidence as a decision-maker!
Being able to make fast and effective decisions is an essential skill in the world of tech. Often, even small decisions can feel like they’re mission-critical. In these moments, it can feel like not giving the right answer could mean the end of the world (or at least your career). Really though, this is far from the truth…
Often, most decisions in the tech world won’t have a “perfect” answer. It’s more about making a “best fit” choice and sounding confident in your answer (even when you don’t have all the information you’d like.) And usually, people in the room aren’t expecting you to have all the answers. Rather, they’re looking to you to help them find the answer by using your expertise to ask questions and frame possibilities.
That being said, there are times when you’ll have to be able to make an important decision based on the limited information you currently have available.
So let’s talk about ways you can simplify the decision-making process for yourself so you can boost your confidence levels and reduce the stress associated with decision-making.
7 Tips to Help You Feel Confident and Make Effective Decisions Faster (Even When You Aren’t 100% Sure.)
1. Shift how you see meetings from places where you need to have ALL the answers, to fact-finding missions to discover the answers.
This was something I had to learn over time. I used to be paralyzed with fear going into meetings. I knew that invariably at some point, someone would look to me for an answer to their problems. I felt an unbelievable amount of pressure to deliver the answers for them right then and there, mixed with intense waves of imposter syndrome and lack of confidence.
This all changed when I realized the purpose of these meetings often wasn’t to have all the answers going in. Rather, these meetings serve as opportunities to explore questions and share goals so the whole team would be on the same page and could work together to discover those answers.
These days, I almost never have the answer walking into meetings. And I’m okay with that because I trust my experience to help me give a best-fit answer on the spot or to come up with critical questions that can help the team find the answer together.
In this way, I now consider most meetings as a “work in progress” space, rather than a “final answer” space. After all, if you already had all the answers coming in, there’d be no need for a meeting in the first place!
2. Accept that sometimes you will have to make quick decisions without all the information.
This can be tricky for people at the beginning of their careers in tech, but there will be times when you’ll have to make decisions without all the information. Let me tell you a secret – the higher up you get, the less data you’ll have at your disposal to make these big decisions.
On these occasions, the best thing you can do is to “get a silhouette of the issue,” as I like to call it. If you can understand the basic components of where someone’s coming from with their questions and the outcome they’re hoping to achieve, then you can use your expertise to give a best-fit answer.
A lot of these questions may be very technical. In best-case scenarios, you’d be given time — a few hours at most — to do some background research and come back with an answer you feel more sure about. But in many cases, you won’t be given this time and will have to trust your instincts. Learning to trust your intuition and experience in these moments is essential to strengthening your decision-making skills.
3. Get comfortable saying, “That’s a great question. I don’t currently know the answer, but I’ll research and get back to you.”
It’s okay to not know the answer. Let me say that again for anyone who missed it — NO ONE EXPECTS YOU TO KNOW ALL THE ANSWERS ALL THE TIME. My imposter syndrome made this one a particularly difficult lesson to learn. Over time, I realized that giving an immediate answer wasn’t always necessary. My need to give a lightning-fast time frame was actually based on personal self-doubt, not other people’s expectations.
Some questions will require an immediate answer, but at other times, it’s important to know when you legitimately need extra data.
Saying “I don’t know, but I can find out for you” is a power move that shows you’re invested in their question and want to give it a thoughtful and accurate response. Ultimately, people will respect your investment in the issue. Just be sure that you actually do circle back with a response!
4. There isn’t always a perfect answer — sometimes you have to make the best decision with the choices in front of you.
You can spend hours making a pros and cons list or doing research to ease your worries about making a bad decision. At the end of the day though, there isn’t always a “perfect” answer. Especially in the world of tech.
A lot of the time, you’re dealing with ever-evolving and expanding programs and products, so the “right” answer is the answer you choose with confidence. Plus, making mistakes is a part of the game. You can’t get anywhere without taking that first step, and even that first misstep will show you where you need to go next.
5. Get comfortable speaking up in meetings.
Your voice is important. If you’re in the meeting, you’re there for a reason. Remember, it’s not about having all the answers, but helping shape the answer with solid questions sourced from your expertise and background.
So if you’re in the meeting, speak up! Start changing your attitude about speaking up in meetings from a default of “no,” to “yes!” If you have a question or a counterpoint, share it! There is HUGE value in exposing blind spots and casting light on questions or potential weaknesses that haven’t yet been explored. Plus, defaulting to “yes” and speaking up in meetings is what will help you get to leadership.
6. Identify the questions you need to ask to make a good decision.
For the questions you can’t give an immediate answer to, explore the questions you need answers to in order to help your colleague make a good decision. Over time, you can usually build out a list of essential questions (and answers) you’ll need for any given decision you need to make.
One of the best questions you can ask in tech: “Why do you need this?”
Unless you have a frame of reference for what your colleague is asking, you’ll likely give an answer that isn’t specific to their problem or goal.
For example, let’s say two buildings are being built with the exact same technical specifications. You might assume them to look identical, right? But depending on their intended use, the buildings may need to be built differently. For instance, a K-8 school that has the same number of floors and requirements for the structure will need to look and feel different than a building for the FBI.
You need to ask your colleague WHY they need this thing, so you can identify how it needs to fit into the larger puzzle.
7. Not all questions need answers.
Sometimes, your colleagues aren’t looking for answers. They’re looking to you to provide them with a list of pros and cons, risks, or options to help them decide. Sometimes they may need you to tell them that an idea of theirs won’t work.
If you’re not the decider on the team (which most engineers aren’t), then don’t take on that burden! And honestly, sometimes it’s better to ask questions than to give an answer. It often ends up being far more impactful to give someone the opportunity to make a decision for themselves.
*A quick note on giving estimates for deadlines.
A lot of people struggle with this, but people-pleasers have it really bad. With our drive to want to “be good,” we often give incredibly fast deadlines we think our colleagues want to hear. Usually, though, they want a realistic timeline, even if it’s longer than expected. So instead of setting yourself up for unnecessary pressure of a tight deadline, know that it’s okay to give yourself time.
The Big Takeaway
If you leave this article having learned one thing, I want you to know that you don’t have to know everything to be an expert. You are already an expert, and your expertise will grow as your experience does. The best thing you can do is continue speaking up, asking questions, and making decisions knowing that no matter what happens, you’ll be able to problem-solve and adapt. The best way to build your confidence in making decisions is by starting to make decisions.