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Five Stages of Decision Making

Five Stages of Decision Making

Most of us rarely, if ever, consider the process we go through in making a decision. It’s just something we do. Yet understanding the process can provide a greater understanding of how to improve the outcomes of your decisions. Did you know there are five stages of decision making?

  • Unaware
  • Aware
  • Knowledge or Fact Finding
  • Commitment or Clarifying
  • Action or Decision

I have found that the five stages of decision making are best illustrated by a story told by a consulting colleague of mine. It has come to be known as “Steve’s Refrigerator Story.”  Steve is a bottom line, no nonsense type of management consultant who has affectionately referred to his wife, Susan, as the Martha Stewart of Hood River, Oregon.  As you can imagine, she is a gourmet cook; so when it came time to remodel their kitchen, Steve naturally passed the design and purchasing decisions to Susan.

One day Susan called him while he was on the road and asked what he wanted in a refrigerator. Steve, being the bottom line guy he is, says, “When I open the door I want the little light in the back to come on, and when I grab my beer I want it to be cold, other than those two things I don’t care.”  Years later Steve was at home working on a proposal and Susan was out of town.  Steve decided to grab a beer before finishing up and heading to bed, he walked into the kitchen opened the refrigerator and immediately noticed the light didn’t come on.  When he grabbed his beer, he noticed it wasn’t very cold. He stepped to the left to turn on the kitchen light and stepped right into a puddle of water in his stocking feet.

            Steve has just gone from an unaware state to an aware state.

The reality is most of us operate in the unaware state as we go about our daily routines. It isn’t until we are presented with a problem or opportunity, we realize we should have anticipated the possibility of this situation arising.

After mopping the water from the floor Steve recognized there was nothing he can do at that late hour, so he finished his beer and went to bed.  Talking to a repairman the next morning, he was told him his best option was to replace the refrigerator. He then hit Steve with a bunch of questions regarding the make and model of the current refrigerator, how many cubic feet, whether it was a top freezer, bottom freezer or side by side unit…  He didn’t have any answers because he hadn’t cared. But now, to get a price quote, he had to go get the information for the appliance store.

            Steve had entered the knowledge or fact-finding stage. 

Once all the data was collected and given to the store, he received a price he thought was outrageous. So be began to compare prices with several different vendors. Since none of the prices seem to be differing very much, he decided to call the store where they purchased the refrigerator.  Now armed with all the necessary information he relayed it to the salesman and was given a quote about $250 cheaper than anyone else. He was told it was a loyal customer discount. But next Steve wanted to know about delivery.

            Steve just transitioned from knowledge and fact finding into the commitment or clarifying stage.

 The salesman told him they could deliver the new refrigerator that afternoon, and they would remove the old one at no additional charge.  At this point, Steve was ready to take action and make a decision.  He gave the salesman his credit card number and they agreed upon a delivery time.

After delivery and restocking the refrigerator, Steve returned to the unaware stage where life was good and the beer was cold.

The thought process may not follow a linear pattern precisely, but the reality is all of the five stages of decision making process must be addressed and satisfied before an action will be taken.  Understanding this process will help you determine where your client or customer is and how to help them resolve their concerns in order to arrive at an acceptable decision.

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