Helping Your Life Work
November 1, 2006
Volume 2, Issue 11

Decisions, Decisions

Lillian Dinklage was a doctoral student of psychology at Harvard University in 1968, when she wrote her dissertation on “Student Decision-Making.” In it, she developed a list of eleven strategies that adolescents typically adopted to make decisions. This list grew to be the definitive source for identifying decision-making styles, not just for adolescents, but for all of us when we make personal choices. Nearly forty years later, her typology is still used in countless university and career counselling settings to help individuals identify their decision-making styles and make decisions about their futures.

Ms. Dinklage identified the following decision-making types:

  1. The “Impulsive” type decides on the spur of the moment, without too much thought or concern. 
  2. The “Fatalist” leaves decisions, as the name implies, up to fate.
  3. The “Compliant” one lets others make the decisions.
  4. The “Delayer” delays decisions until the last possible moment.
  5. The “Agonizer” gathers as much data as possible, analyzes it, dissects it, and is left feeling overwhelmed with all the alternatives.
  6. The “Intuitive” decider bases decisions on a feeling, a hunch, an intuition,
  7. The “Paralytic” one becomes paralyzed when confronted with a decision.
  8. The “Escapist” avoids making decisions.
  9. The “Play it Safe” decides on what s/he thinks carries the least risk.
  10. The “Deviant” chooses whatever is the opposite of what is asked or what is the norm.
  11. The “Planner” tries to balance decisions based on examining facts and considering feelings.

While it may appear that “The Planner” is the best type of decision maker, there are, in fact, other styles that might be appropriate under the right circumstances. For example, being a “Planner” for every decision would not only waste a lot of time, it would also take the fun out of being spontaneous, carefree and “Impulsive.” Similarly, when a decision is not as important to us as it is to another, we may choose to be “The Compliant” one. Making a decision prematurely without all the facts might prompt us to be a “Delayer” when necessary. Our “Intuitive” sense might, on occasion, put up red flags that tell us to follow our instincts rather than a pre-determined plan. Even “The Deviant” can play a role in asserting our individuality and gaining our independence. Problems arise, however, when we adopt one style and apply it to most circumstances. 

In making decisions about academic programs or careers, we might find ourselves in the following situations. For those of us who like to “Play It Safe,” we might consider entering a profession with an abundance of jobs rather than one in which we have some interest. If we have previously chosen a field that we ultimately didn’t enjoy we might become “Agonizers” in an effort to avoid making any further mistakes. If we have always relied on experts or authority figures, we might become “Compliants” or “Fatalists,” depending on parents, teachers or tarot cards to tell us what to do.

When we engage in career counselling, we enter into a process that encourages us to make more informed and lasting decisions based on gathering information while paying attention to our intuition and feelings. The typical process goes through seven stages:

  1. Identifying the Decision & Setting a Goal to Achieve It: Why am I here? What do I need to decide? (Do I want to change careers, go back to school, or quit my job?) What are the underlying issues?
  2. Gathering Information: Collecting pertinent information, ideas and insights about ourselves and the world of work.
  3. Identifying Alternatives: Generating lists of desirable options, noticing patterns and themes that emerge.
  4. Evaluating the Information: Analyzing their desirability based on our values.
  5. Choosing Amongst the Alternatives: Deciding on the top two or three career options.
  6. Developing an Action Plan: Setting some short and long-term goals to achieve the desired course of action, considering obstacles that might get in the way. Monitoring and reviewing to modify if necessary.
  7. Implementing the Decision: Taking action and following through.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an academic or career decision and would like some help in reaching an effective conclusion, consider a career counselling process to help you reach it. 


Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352
“Helping Your Life Work”

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