Four Ways People Make Decisions and Why You Need to Know the Difference

Four Ways People Make Decisions and Why You Need to Know the Difference

Don’t assume we all make decisions in the same way, because we don’t.  If you make this mistake, you will often find yourself frustrated that other people cannot come to agreement with you.  You could make the perfect argument for your position and why a particular decision needs to be made but find that it falls on deaf ears.  Avoid unnecessary conflict by understanding how different people make decisions in different ways than you. 

Before my wife and I were married we were making decisions about what kind of vehicle we needed as we were heading off to graduate school immediately after our wedding.  We were engaged at this point and had two cars between us – my wife had a very large luxurious gas guzzler, and I had a 1965 Ford Mustang.  With our limited finances, living during the gas rationing Carter years (I know we are old!), we new we could only afford one car.  The question was who was going to give up their car?  My fiancé loved her car and so did I.  My car needed lots of work and was old even back then.  I knew that my car had to go and that I could get a descent price for a classic.  I also believed that my wife’s car had to go too because it only got about seven miles to the gallon of gas and was expensive to maintain.  If we were to finish graduate school without debt, we needed to get a smaller import that was reliable.  I shared this with my fiancé with all my logic and passion and discovered that we couldn’t come to an agreement on what to do. 

My fiancé valued the safety and security of her large luxury vehicle.  Her family had helped her to find the car (her first car) and they had picked it out together.  I have to admit that it was a sweet ride with power everything.  But we didn’t have the need for this kind of luxury or space.  We needed something economical and reliable.  Without agreement I began to shop for the “right” vehicle for us.  It was soon after that I was in a showroom by myself looking at an automobile that fit our needs.  I discovered that everyone wanted the same kind of car we “needed”.  For this reason there was a year’s wait to get one.  You couldn’t pick your color.  You just got the vehicle that came available a year from now or you went to the back of the line.  Just then, a person came in and rejected the car they were on a list to purchase and the salesman offered me his car if I paid for it at that very moment.  I called my fiancé and explained that this is an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.  I explained again all the reasons why this would help us to reach all our goals but she wasn’t convinced.  The call ended with, “Do whatever you want.”  So, I bought the car. 

We have now been married 40 years, but we almost didn’t get married over that decision.  It wasn’t till much later did I learn that people don’t all make decisions the same way.  If I had known, we might not have had such a turbulent time in those early years. 

There are four ways people make decisions.  Each of them has a different goal and a different way of gathering information.  If you are to be more successful in working with other people that are different from you, you must understand the differences and how to connect to their frame of reference.  If you don’t grasp the importance of the differences, you will be less successful in connecting at the heart level and you may fall into conflict unnecessarily. 

Here are the four ways that people make decisions:

  1. People/Feeling

What is most important to this group is how the decision will impact other people.  They don’t want anyone to be negatively impacted by the decision.  In the example above, my fiancé was greatly concerned about how her parents would view the selling of the automobile that they had helped her pick out.  Her relationship with dad could be negatively impacted.  Those who make decisions like this have antennae and pick up the feelings of others.  The source of their decisions is focused on feelings.  They may even state that they don’t feel good about a decision, and not be able to give you a rational reason for why they feel this way.  They have learned that their feelings are to be relied upon with confidence when making decisions.  They would rather not make a decision that hurts even one other person even if it stalls a preferred goal.  In Corestrengths we call this BLUE.

2. Performance/Gut

What is most important to this group is performance and success.  They are goal oriented.  The decision that makes the most sense for them is the decision that advances the goal or helps them get to the goal quickest and most efficiently.  The source of their decision is their gut.  The “gut” is the sense of just knowing instinctually what the best way is forward.  Normally this is not accompanied by a great deal of research or thinking deeply although it isn’t excluded.  Someone like this just knows what the right decision is and voices the direction and doesn’t realize that other people don’t make decisions the same way.  This person has learned to trust their gut because it has served them well most of their life.  In Corestrengths we call this RED.

3. Process/Data

What is most important to this group is going through a process that helps them choice the “right way”.  They believe that decisions require a systematic analysis that takes time and research.  They believe that decisions made in haste will lead them astray.  They don’t count on feelings because feelings are not to be trusted.  They don’t have a gut to count on.  They don’t understand how anyone can make a decision without doing the due diligence required.  They need facts which requires research and time to process.  The best decisions will not be made quickly or off the cuff.  They might even think any other way of decision making is foolish.  In Corestrengths we call this GREEN.

4. Perspective/Collaboration

What is most important to this group is having a balanced perspective.  They want to look at each decision through the lens of feelings, gut, and data.  They do this through collaboration with other people.  They want to talk out decisions with others and weigh the advantages and disadvantages.  They are also concerned with people, performance, and process equally.  If they don’t have the opportunity to consider each of these perspectives, they may feel conflicted because they might lack confidence in the decision before them.  In the Corestrengths we call this HUB. 

If you can identify how a person makes decisions, you will be able to adjust your communication style to address the things most important to the other person rather than just what is important to you.  You can also help the other person to gain the kind of information they need prior to making a decision.  By doing this, you will avoid the conflict that comes simply because you make decisions differently and are focused on different things and sources of information.  The more important the decision, the more important it is that you consider the goal and source of information that other people weigh.

Life is filled with decision making.  This is true in marriage, in business, and in the church.  Learn how those around you are wired and how they make decisions so you can enjoy successful relationships and avoid the pain of conflict.  One more thing I learned…  don’t every listen to your wife when she says, “Do whatever you want!” 

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.