Good judgement can be taught

These three simple steps can help you have better judgement.

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 23 Apr 2014

Although some people are smarter than others, everybody makes poor decisions. Unlike IQ or innate intellectual capacity, good judgement can be trained ... not just in others, but also in ourselves.

Here are three simple suggestions for improving your judgement.

  • First, identify your particular biases or 'default' thinking tendencies.

This means coming to terms with your typical patterns of irrationality. For example, are you more driven by fear or success? Do you pay more attention to details or the big picture? Are you more likely to plan for the distant future or do you prioritise now? Do you see the glass as half-full or empty? And do you tend to overthink stuff or are you more prone to making quick, impulsive decisions?

Note that even though these biases are hard to overcome, just being aware of them will help you minimise their adverse effects on decision-making, which will improve your judgement.

  • Second, learn to prioritise.

Here, it is useful to follow the 90-10 rule adopted by Google and other successful organisations. That is, try to devote 10% of your time to 90% of the decisions, and 90% of your time to 10% of your decisions.

The reason is simple: the vast majority of decisions are both inconsequential and unintellectual - so they can be automated via routine and habit - and the more effectively you do this, the more mental resources you can devote to important matters: key meetings with clients or your boss, big career decisions, complex problems and moral dilemmas.

  • Third, remember that your choices are only one third of the decision-making process.

The other two parts involve persuading others that you are right and persuading yourself, so you can be satisfied with the result. The problems that we face in life rarely have an absolute or objective correct answer, and whether we have made the right or wrong decision can only be determined ad hoc. As the great William James, the father of pragmatism, noted: 'Truth is something that happens to an idea.'

And if you can't convince yourself, then come to terms with the fact that your decision was poor, and learn from experience. As the saying goes: good judgement comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgement.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a professor of business psychology at UCL, VP of innovation at Hogan Assessments and co-founder of metaprofiling.com.

Follow Professor Chamorro-Premuzic on Twitter at @drtcp.

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