Stages In Decision Making


The stages in decision making can be broadly categorized as follows:

  • Define the situation
  • Generate alternatives
  • Information gathering
  • Selection
  • Action

Although there are 5 stages listed here, the 7 step model has seven stages, the 9 step model has 9 stages of decision making, and so on.

Lets examine each of these more closely.

Define the situation

Of the stages in decision making, this is probably the most significant step. It is vital to have a good understanding and be very clear about a) the situation and b) what you want to achieve.

Any misinformation about the situation is likely to be amplified in the later stages in decision making. For example, a passerby who considers the unconscious person on the street to be a drunk will act differently than if they knew that person was actually suffering a stroke.

Being clear about what you want the decision to achieve will also have knock on effects on the later stages in decision making. It's very easy to know what is not wanted, e.g., 'I don't want this anymore', or 'This has to stop'. But such framing of the outcome in the negative does not set a direction to move towards, only what to move away from.

Instead, state in the positive what you want the decision to achieve. For example, instead of 'I want to stop wasting my time here' you could say 'I want to get this chapter finished in the next 2 hours.'

This sets a very clear and measurable outcome for the decision making process. It will often allow a much smoother transitioning through the subsequent stages in decision making as well.

Generate alternatives

Unless you are choosing from alternatives there is no decision to make!

The number of alternatives you choose will depend on such factors as experience, knowledge, skills, number of people involved in generating alternatives and what's considered important.


Information gathering

The information required can be about the alternatives or even about the situation and the required outcome. As alternatives are suggested, it may require further clarification of the situation or the decision to be made.

Of the stages in decision making, this one often takes the most time. An aspect of the rational decision making models is the weighing up of the pros and cons of the various alternatives so as to arrive at the best. As you may have experienced, this can take so long as to inhibit the decision making process!

In contrast, This can be one of the quickest stages of the recognition primed decision making model, where the information gathering is done mentally by the expert by rapidly bringing his or her acquired experiences and skills to bear on the situation.


Selection is the choosing of one of the alternatives. Although it's listed as only one of the stages of decision making, many people consider that this is the whole of the decision making process. An idea that means that they pay little or no attention to the previous stages, which makes this one very tricky!

However, if the previous stages of decision making have been done well, this stage is actually fairly straightforward.

The method of selection will very much depend on the decision making process. Rational decision models choose the option that has more pros than cons. Intuitive decision makers 'go with their gut', or their heart.

The natural decision making model put forward in this web site selects based on your personal experiences as well as your own personal internal signals.


It's important to include this in the stages of decision making because any time spent making a decision is wasted if it is not converted into action. Great decisions are only great when they are carried into action and the action achieves the desired result.

And an aspect of taking action is assessing whether the decision actually achieved the desired outcome. And if not, making modifications until it does so.

Order of stages

The order of the stages in decision making is important if you want to make quality decisions effortlessly and consistently.

You won't know what information to gather unless you know what the situation is and what alternatives are being considered. It's difficult to select an option if you don't know what you are trying to achieve.

Remember, too, that it may be necessary to cycle back to an earlier stage when the information in the system changes. For example, having gathered some information, you may realize that it makes sense to update what you want the decision to achieve. Or taking action may give you an alternative not previously considered.

Learn about streamlining the stages and about how to make faster decisions...

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