Are You Undecided?

UPDATED: November 2, 2012
PUBLISHED: November 2, 2012

Not making a decision can be a pretty big decision in itself.

I hear there are still undecided voters in the presidential election, but where are these coveted citizens? They must be hiding because I have yet to meet one.

Let’s be honest, making decisions can be hard – especially important ones.

There have been times when I needed to make a decision, but not making one seemed so much easier. I hesitated on starting my business, expanding the group and starting to write again. I kept waiting for that fork in the road or trigger to force me, but it didn’t happen that way.

Indecision can hit when you know you are in the wrong job, but hope something will make it better. Or, you have a great business concept, but keep waiting for a sign to act. Maybe, you need to make decisions to help your aging parents, but hate the thought of it. Or your college major isn’t right for you, but it seems easier to continue than transferring to another one.

Not making a decision is, in fact, a big decision. Doors close, unintended outcomes are in front of you and options may become less appealing over time.

Some people are wired to make decisions faster than others. Research tells us that those who see the world in black & white make decisions more quickly. The ambivalent, who see the shades of gray, are usually slower decision-makers.

“If there isn’t an easy answer, ambivalent people, more than black-and-white thinkers, are likely to procrastinate and avoid making a choice, for instance about whether to take a new job”, says Dr. Harreveld, a social psychologist at the University of Amsterdam. Often the people I most admire for their insights are shades-of-gray people who see the nuance and subtlety of situations.

So, what keeps us from making a decision? Experts tell us it’s everything from fear of being wrong, fear of committing, facing a reality we don’t want to face, being second-guessed and just simple procrastination.

How can you make a decision when it seems hard? Here are some ideas.

Look at just the facts. Set aside your personal feelings and look at information objectively without personalizing it. Pretend you are a private investigator or reporter. What are the facts telling you?

Look at short-term vs. long-term issues. This helps you know how much you need to decide now and if it’s one big decision or several smaller ones. Can you make a decision to move forward while still gathering more information? Do you need to decide everything at once right now?

Give yourself a deadline if it is needed. If the calendar matters, give yourself a deadline before the real deadline so you aren’t down to the wire. Sometimes we need a deadline just so we move forward and sometimes the decision requires it. Either way, pick the date for when you will have what you need to make a decision. –         

Look at options and write down the pros and cons. Sometimes looking at all viable options helps you realize that while Option B is far from ideal, it’s a lot better than Options A or C.

After you decide, let it sink in for a day or two before you act. If it is a big decision that is hard to undo, let your decision sink in and see how it feels. This is not so you can procrastinate, but to have some confidence that your decision will still seem right later. I’ve seen this work for individuals when deciding which college to attend, if they should leave a current job, or if they should approach a boss about his behavior. I let it sink in for a week after deciding to start my business just to be sure it was right before I acted upon it. And it still felt right.

It’s important to be eyes-wide-open on the implications of not deciding. Indecision can create outcomes that would have never been on the acceptable list at the beginning, but you end up there just because not deciding once seemed easier.

So here’s hoping all of the undecided voters will find the best way to come to a conclusion. And that the undecided – along with everyone else – will go vote!

Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at