Decision-Making Style: A Guide to the 4 Types (With Examples)

Updated March 10, 2023

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A team meets in an office meeting room. A writing board is seen to the left of them, and the team sits at a large table in front of a wall of windows.

Throughout your career, you'll be faced with decisions in the workplace. Whether your choices impact your team or the entire company, how you analyze information and consider the opinions of others speaks to your leadership style, but also your approach to decision-making, which falls into four basic types.

In this article, we explain the four main styles of decision-making in the workplace, complete with examples, so you can understand what style (or styles) you use to make decisions day to day.

Why are decision-making styles important?

Whether you’re leading a team, a corporation or evaluating your own tasks, it's important to understand how you arrive at a decision. Knowing this, you’ll be able to assess if another style is perhaps better for your career or a particular situation.

Practicing good decision-making can improve your leadership qualities. Getting to know the four decision-making styles will help you understand your own process, as well as recognize the way others make choices in the workplace. When you identify your own decisive style, you can learn how to manage the outcomes of a situation when you need to provide a solution.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles

4 types of decision-making styles

Each decision-making style is characterized by either a task or social focus and a high or low tolerance for ambiguity. Styles with a high tolerance for ambiguity can work with unknown variables as they come to a conclusion. Those with a low tolerance for ambiguity want as much clarity as possible in all the circumstances and information that lead to their decisions.

Decision-making styles also vary in a social- or task-driven focus. Social-driven decisions consider the behavior of others involved in the outcome. Those who are task-driven make decisions based on how to best achieve a goal.

Related: Optimizing Your Workplace Decision-Making Process in 7 Steps

Here are the four decision-making styles with examples of how they might be used in the workplace:

1. Directive

The directive decision-making style uses quick, decisive thinking to come to a solution. A directive decision-maker has a low tolerance for unclear or ambiguous ideas. They're focused on the task and will use their own knowledge and judgment to come to a conclusion with selective input from other individuals.

Directive decision-makers excel at verbal communication. They're rational and logical in their decision-making. When the team or organization needs a fast decision, a directive-style decision-maker can effectively make a choice. Their style is valuable for making short-term decisions.

Example: Company stockholders have voted to expand their 401(k) option to all current employees and new employees after they complete a 90-day trial period. The CEO must now decide if the company will provide matching funds for employees who give to their 401(k) fund. She thinks about how this might help to attract top talent for their team.

The CEO looks at the budget projections she has just prepared and thinks about how funds that are allocated for another project could be used to match employee contributions. She decides that employees who contribute to their funds will be matched 4% by the company.

Related: Decision-Making Methods for the Workplace

2. Analytical

Analytical decision-makers carefully analyze data to come up with a solution. They're careful and adaptable thinkers. They will invest time to glean information to form a conclusion. These decision-makers are task-oriented but have a high tolerance for ambiguity.

Analytical decision-makers take time to compile data and evidence before they come to a conclusion. When they do make a decision, they have looked at all the details and formed what they believe is the best possible solution.

Example: The marketing team of a sports broadcasting company is tasked to identify how they can reach a wider audience with their current ad campaign. The marketing manager asks each team leader to submit a report from their portion of the campaign including the numbers of each audience demographic. They read each report then meet with the team leads. After the meeting, the marketing manager decides to purchase more add space on social media websites for the next 30 days.

Related: Decision Analysis: Definition and Examples

3. Conceptual

Those who make decisions with a conceptual style are big picture thinkers who are willing to take risks. They evaluate different options and possibilities with a high tolerance to ambiguity. They're social-oriented and take the time to consider big ideas and creative solutions.

Conceptual decision-makers look forward to what could happen if the decision is made. Their conclusions come from visualizing different opportunities and outcomes for the future. They're strong in making long-term decisions.

Example: Joe's startup retail company is performing well during their first year. He thinks about how the company can open stores nationwide in the next five years. When a new shopping development begins construction in a nearby big city, he decides to open a new store branch at the site. Although it's a risk to open this new store, Joe is confident his team will be successful, and this will help launch their brand nationally.

Related: Decision-Making Methodologies (With Definitions and Examples)

4. Behavioral

A behavioral style of decision-making focuses on relationships more than the task. It evaluates the feelings of others as part of their decision-making process. Behavior decision-makers have a low tolerance for ambiguity and a social focus as they evaluate solutions.

These decision-makers rely on information from others to guide what they choose. They are persuasive communicators who value decisions based on a team consensus. Their decisions are often based on how the choice will impact relationships.

Example: As HR manager, Kate has been asked to decide which week employees should get as a bonus paid vacation days before the end of the year. She sends out an email survey to see how employees feel about three possible dates. After she reads the survey responses, she asks her coworkers for input over a lunch break. Later in the afternoon, she walks through the office chatting with several more employees.

When she decides which week the majority of coworkers want, she talks to several employees who will not get the choice they hoped for, making sure they're feeling alright about the decision. At the end of the day, she notifies the management and the employees which week will be a bonus paid vacation time.

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