Blog: Creative Decision Making and Goal Achievement

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Blog: Creative Decision Making and Goal Achievement

What to expect if you subscribe? 

You’ll receive news about decision making, including topics such as career choices, strategic planning, goal achievement, will-power, procrastination, creative thinking, risk and uncertainty, intuition, etc. You’ll hear about research findings and get practical tips, book recommendations, or updates of upcoming events, for example workshops or talks on those topics.

You can of course easily unsubscribe at any time, and your email will not be shared or used for any other purpose.

by Ursina Teuscher (PhD), at Teuscher Decision Coaching, Portland OR

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Employee Coaching ROI: Is It Worth It?

What is the return on investment (ROI) of employee coaching for an organization?

Offering coaching for employees – especially at the executive level – has become a widespread management tool. Companies often hire coaches with the goal to improve performance and develop talents, but also to keep high-performing people within an organization.

However, coaching is an expensive intervention: aside from the fees of the coach, there’s also the opportunity cost of the employee’s time spent with the coach during working hours. Therefore, companies who are paying for coaching for their employees will want to know whether it is a good investment. Does it improve the company’s bottom line enough to be worth the cost?

A look at the evidence

What effects does coaching have? I put together a selection of research articles investigating this question, including all the meta-analyses I could find that have been conducted in the past two decades. You’ll find the full list of references below, and here’s my very brief, non-systematic, summary:

Despite using different measures, each of the meta-analyses found that overall, coaching is a very effective intervention. It affects goal achievement, performance and skills directly, but also other work-relevant variables, such as employee’s well-being, work attitudes, and self-regulation.

A few random fun facts:

  • Novice coaches are as effective as the more experienced coaches.
  • The background of the coach matters: coaches with a mix of psychology and non-psychology background were more effective than coaches solely with a psychology or non-psychology background.
  • Coaching outcomes were more improved in undergraduate coaching clients than in either executive or non-academic, non-executive coaching clients. (But the explanation might be as simple as that students had the most immediate opportunities to prove performance, such as in exams).
  • Coaching has the strongest effect on behavioral changes, as opposed to attitude changes.

But: how can an organization assess their own coaching ROI and effectiveness?

Despite these robust findings of the effectiveness of coaching, several studies point out that it is not only very difficult, but probably impossible, for any one organization to measure the true ROI of their own coaching interventions accurately, because links between coaching and monetary changes within an organization are so complex. However, any one organization can make use of more established knowledge when interpreting their outcomes of coaching:

For instance, coaching may increase an employee’s self-efficacy, and we already know from a considerable amount of research that self-efficacy is related to better performance in the work place. As another example, if coaching increases employees’ well-being and resilience, we can assume that this will also benefit the employer, because we already know from a multitude of other studies that well-being and resilience are linked to desirable employee attitudes, behaviors and performance. Similarly, goal achievement has been established as a reliable outcome of coaching interventions, and higher or continued goal attainment leads to greater satisfaction on an individual level, as well as to increased productivity, performance and organizational profitability.

Beyond ROI

In other words, while most coaching studies have focused on the benefits of coaching to the individual, rather than the organization, we already know from a large body of research how these individual benefits extend to the team and organizational level. There is therefore no need to get discouraged by the elusiveness of ROI as an outcome measure. Organizations can assess the effectiveness of their coaching in many other ways, and rely on earlier research when interpreting these outcomes.

by Ursina Teuscher (PhD), at Teuscher Decision Coaching, Portland OR

Avey, J. B., Reichard, R. J., Luthans, F., & Mhatre, K. H. (2011). Meta-analysis of the impact of positive psychological capital on employee attitudes, behaviors, and performance. Human Resource Development Quartely, 22, 127–152.
Burt, D., & Talati, Z. (2017). The unsolved value of executive coaching: A meta-analysis of outcomes using randomised control trial studies. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 15, (2), 17-24.
Grover, S., & Furnham, A. (2016). Coaching as a Developmental Intervention in Organisations: A Systematic Review of Its Effectiveness and the Mechanisms Underlying It. PLOS ONE, 11(7), e0159137.
Hodgkinson, G. P., & Ford, J. K. (2010). International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2010. John Wiley & Sons.
McGovern, J., Lindemann, M., Vergara, M., Murphy, S., Barker, L., & Warrenfeltz, R. (2001). Maximizing the impact of executive coaching. The Manchester Review, 6(1), 1–9.
Meuse, K. P. D., Dai, G., & Lee, R. J. (2009). Evaluating the effectiveness of executive coaching: beyond ROI? Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 2(2), 117–134.
Passmore, J., & Fillery-Travis, A. (2011). A critical review of executive coaching research: a decade of progress and what’s to come. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 4(2), 70–88.
Passmore, J., & Gibbes, C. (2007). The state of executive coaching research: What does the current literature tell us and what’s next for coaching research? Coaching Psychology Review, 2(2), 116.
Robertson, I. T., Birch, A. J., & Cooper, C. L. (2012). Job and work attitudes, engagement and employee performance: Where does psychological well-being fit in? Leadership and Organizational Developmet Journal, 33, 224–232.
Sonesh, S. C., Coultas, C. W., Lacerenza, C. N., Marlow, S. L., Benishek, L. E., & Salas, E. (2015). The power of coaching: a meta-analytic investigation. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 8(2), 73–95.
Stajkovic, A. D., & Luthans, F. (1998). Self-efficacy and work-related performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 240–261.
Theeboom, T., Beersma, B., & Vianen, A. E. M. van. (2014). Does coaching work? A meta-analysis on the effects of coaching on individual level outcomes in an organizational context. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(1), 1–18.
Wright, T. A., & Cropanzano, R. (2000). Psychological well-being and job satisfaction as predictors of job performance. Journal of Occupational Health Psycholology, 5, 84–94.

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Posted in Achieving Goals, Business Decisions, Counseling/Coaching, Job Satisfaction, Productivity

Career Decisions Are Complex: How to Organize Your Thoughts

This is a guest contribution I’ve been invited to write for the Portland career counseling blog “Career Transition: The Inside Job – Insights from Portland, Oregon Career Counselors”.

How can you tell when you’re oversimplifying your career decision because of information overload? And what to do about it? Read the full article here.

Career Decisions Are Complex: How to Organize Your Thoughts - Guest Blog Post by Ursina Teuscher, PhD

by Ursina Teuscher (PhD), at Teuscher Decision Coaching, Portland OR


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Posted in Career Decisions, Decision-Making

How to Nurture Your Brain

I’m happy to announce the publication of a literature review from a collaboration with my colleagues Raffaella Misuraca and Silvana Miceli from the Università degli Studi di Palermo, Italy:

Misuraca, R., Miceli, S., & Teuscher, U. (2017). Three effective ways to nurture our brain: physical activity, healthy nutrition, and music. A review. European Psychologist, 22 (2), 101–120.

[Full text available from ResearchGate]

How to Nurture Your Brain

ABSTRACT: A growing body of research suggests that physical activity, healthy eating, and music can, either directly or indirectly, have positive effects on our brain and cognition. More specifically, exercising and eating seem to enhance cognitive abilities, such as memory, creativity, and perception. They also improve academic performance and play a protective role from many degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. Concerning music, research has shown that there exists a general positive relation between music aptitude and cognitive functioning. Furthermore, the presence of music seems to create a positive mood and a higher arousal, which translates into better performance in many cognitive tasks. This literature review provides an overview of the major empirical findings in this domain. Studies on both healthy and clinical individuals are reviewed and discussed. We conclude with suggestions for educators, policymakers, people in helping professions, and any others interested in making informed decisions about possible ways to nurture their own brain or the brain of the people they are trying to help. We also provide suggestions for additional research on this important topic.
© 2017 Hogrefe Publishing.

by Ursina Teuscher (PhD), at Teuscher Decision Coaching, Portland OR

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Posted in Health Decisions, Neuroscience Tagged with:

Workshop: Job Stress Management

Wednesday August 16, 11am-1pm (Portland, OR).

Is your job causing you a lot of unhealthy stress? In my last post, I wrote about the “Sort and Tackle” Technique, and how and why it can improve your stress levels at work. You can now give this technique a try in a guided setting and start sorting out and tackling some of your own biggest challenges at work. In this interactive workshop, I’ll help you prioritize which stressors to tackle first, and design a plan with specific next steps. Find more information and register here.

Workshop on Job Stress Management

by Ursina Teuscher (PhD), at Teuscher Decision Coaching, Portland OR

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Posted in Career Decisions, Conflict Resolution, Counseling/Coaching, Job Satisfaction, Problem Solving, Productivity, Stress Management

How to Manage Stress at Work

If your job is causing you a lot of stress, you’re not alone. In a 2014 survey in the US, almost a third (31%) of the workers reported that they typically feel tense or stressed out during the work day. This number is even higher among millenials (18-34 year old workers) than among any of the older generations.

What are the most common causes for stress at work?

So many issues can cause stress at work. The survey lists the following, with the most commonly experienced stressors on top:

  1. Low salariesHow to Manage Stress at Work: Learn a technique that helps you take control and start tackling your top stressors.
  2. Lack of opportunity for growth and development
  3. Uncertain or undefined job expectations
  4. Job insecurity
  5. Long hours
  6. Too heavy of a workload
  7. Unrealistic job expectations
  8. Work interfering during personal or family time
  9. Lack of participation in decision making
  10. Inflexible hours
  11. Problems with my supervisor
  12. Commuting
  13. Physical illnesses and ailments
  14. Problems with my co-workers
  15. Unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions
  16. Personal life interfering during work hours

Does any of this sound familiar when you think or your own job?

What can you do to manage stress at work?

When you search for “stress management techniques”, you’ll mainly find different versions of relaxation techniques. While being able to relax is a good skill to develop and practice, it only gets you so far. It doesn’t really help with most of the work stressors we’ve found here. Also, since there are so many different causes of stress, there is no one remedy that will help them all. Nonetheless, here is my suggestions for a specific technique that can get you started. I call it the “Sort and Tackle” Technique. All you need to begin with is a stack of index cards.

The “Sort and Tackle” Technique

Keep a stack of index cards nearby at work. Whenever you notice that you’re stressed out or frustrated about something, write it down on one card. Once in a while (you can do this as often as you want), do a “sort and tackle”:

1. Sort the cards. There will be some cards that describe stressors you have no control over whatsoever. For example, you may not be able to negotiate your salary. However other cards will describe issues that you may be able to improve in some way, if you are willing to invest some effort, take some risks, or just try something new. For example, you may be able to resolve a conflict with your co-worker, or change some habits to improve your own time management. Move the cards to the top of the pile that describe something you may be able to change. Move the other cards to the bottom that describe issues out of your control. If there are cards about which you are not sure, leave them in the middle for now. You can revisit them later and give them some more thought.

Extra credit: Use the back of each index card to list all kinds of ideas (even bad ones) of how you could improve each stressor. There’s no need to tackle all your problems at once, but collecting your ideas whenever they occur to you will give you something to choose from, once you’re ready to take specific steps.

2. Tackle one. Once you’ve sorted your cards – with the most hopeful, potentially improvable issues on top – pick just one among your top five cards that you want to tackle next. Make a specific plan about how to deal with this issue. For example, if you want to discuss your workload with your boss, you might start by scheduling a meeting with her, or you might start by asking a friend for advice on how you might approach the issue with your boss. Whatever your next step is, define it specifically as to what you are going to do when. It’s better to have a small next step in your calendar than a big but vague “to do” in your head.

And what do you do with the rest of the cards? For now: nothing at all. Until you can come up with reasons to move them to the top of the pile, that is. As long as you have no idea how you could improve the situation from your end, there is also nothing you need to do about it.

Here’s the beauty of this technique: even though you’re only tackling a small part of your problems at any time, this often has positive side effects on all of your stressors. Namely, knowing that you are taking active steps to improve your situation where you can, will give you more peace of mind about the issues that remain out of your control. It truly helps to acknowledge that there are parts of your work that simply suck. Since you can’t do anything about them, there is no point in worrying about them. So don’t throw any of the cards away – keep the whole pile and add to it whenever something new (or old) comes up that stresses you out. However, focus your active efforts and interventions on the top of your pile: on the issues you might be able to improve and are ready to tackle next.

by Ursina Teuscher (PhD), at Teuscher Decision Coaching, Portland OR

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Posted in Achieving Goals, Career Decisions, Job Satisfaction, Problem Solving, Procrastination, Productivity, Self-Assessments, Stress Management

New Summer Readings

My latest picks: (mostly) recent books about decision making and goal achievement.

The promise of a long summer ahead makes me very happy, and so does the knowledge that no matter how much I read, there will always be books out there that I haven’t read yet, as well as books I want to re-read. So, while the truth is that I spend a lot of time reading all year round, not just during the summer, I love the idea of a special “summer reading” list – maybe just because I love seeing two of my favorite words so close together.
So here’s my latest list of book recommendations. Most of these came out within the last year, and all except the last are non-fiction. That last one is very much fiction indeed – a special treat. It’s on my treasured list of books that I’ve read many times, starting as a child, and I still look forward to re-reading it anytime. But whether fiction or not, all the books below tell great stories and deliver truths about decision making and goal achievement.

Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths (2016). Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions.
These authors do a great job explaining how computer algorithms can be applied to help us solve common decision problems. They make a complex and rich topic accessible for non-experts. For me this book was a humbling read, because I expected to already be familiar with many of the concepts it presents. Luckily, I read it anyway, and I learned a great deal. You can look into the book and start reading here.

Caroline Webb (2016). How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life.
In this very practical book, Webb presents a collection of recent findings from behavioral economics, psychology, and neuroscience, and explains how to apply this science to our daily tasks and routines, from time management to improving relationships at work. The author’s experience as a management consultant for McKinsey gives her a unique perspective, and she provides many examples of how she applied each of these techniques with particular clients. Read a sample here.

Cal Newport (2016) Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
Yes, it’s one more book telling us to focus… but this book, ironically, was powerful enough that it distracted me from itself, so to speak. Several times while reading, a found myself looking up, thinking hard, staring into space with the book still on my lap, and making some new commitments on how to change my work routine, right then and there.
That said, some of the claims Newport makes go beyond the evidence he presents. I think we need a lot more research on what “focus” and “deep work” really mean in different contexts. He does, however, present a lot of great evidence, and his suggestions are helpful in any case. Here’s a preview.

Chris Sims and Hillary Louise Johnson (2014). Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction.
A very accurate title for an extremely short book, written for people with little or no prior knowledge of the Scrum/Agile framework for project management and teamwork. It delivers a clear and well-organized overview of the process and different roles involved. Check out the beginning here.

Paul Raeburn and Kevin Zollman (2016). The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting: How the Science of Strategic Thinking Can Help You Deal with the Toughest Negotiators You Know–Your Kids.
Since I’m not a parent myself, I can’t really tell if this is a useful book at all. I just know I’d want to read it if I did have kids. Before them. Look into it here.

Michael Ende (1973). Momo.
Momo is the fantastic story of a little orphan girl, who one day moves into the ruins of a deserted amphitheater, living all by herself. With her special gift for listening, Momo quickly finds friends in the community of poor families living nearby. But when a grey army of men in suits attempts to take over the city, with a cunning scheme to steal people’s time, Momo’s gift unexpectedly turns her into a target, and she and her friends get caught in a sinister plot.
The novel contains profound insights into our attitude toward time. Along with The Neverending Story (1979), Momo (1973) is probably Michael Ende’s most celebrated book. Originally written in German, it has found its widest readership in Europe, the Spanish-speaking world, and Japan. Read the beginning of the novel here.
On Ursina Teuscher's Summer Reading List: Momo by Michael Ende

by Ursina Teuscher (PhD), at Teuscher Decision Coaching, Portland OR

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Posted in Achieving Goals, Book Recommendations, Conflict Resolution, Decision-Making, Interactive Decisions, Productivity

Self-Assessment: How Awe-Struck are You?

In a earlier post, I wrote about how feelings of awe can affect our decision making. Here you can take a quick self-assessment as to how often you experience awe in your own life.

Note that this self-assessment is not a scientifically normed scale. The items are loosely based on Michelle Shiota and her colleagues’ scales of dispositional positive emotions, where awe is one out of seven positive €emotions (the other six being joy, pride, contentment, compassion, amusement, and love). So far, not much research has been done on whether €experiencing€ awe is a stable trait within€ a person’s €personality structure. But regardless of whether €some people are more €naturally prone to it than others, the feeling of awe€ is an experience that we can seek out, if we choose to look for it.

Would you like to experience more awe in your life? If so, try to surround yourself more with natural beauty and seek experiences that expand your horizon. Or as one group of researchers put it: look for things that have “perceptual vastness”, to the extent that they might dramatically expand your usual frame of reference. In experiments, the feeling of awe has often been induced with images or videos of stunning landscapes, night skies, or the real experience of nature, such as standing under towering trees. The Greater Good Science Center (SGCC) at UC Berkeley suggests this video as a practice. There are also certain types of music that have been used successfully to induce awe, such as the song Hoppípolla by Sigur Rós.

If you take another look at the self-assessment scale above: on which of the items could you get a higher score with the easiest changes in your daily habits or leisure activities?

by Ursina Teuscher (PhD), at Teuscher Decision Coaching, Portland OR

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Posted in Creativity, Self-Assessments Tagged with:

New Collaboration of Portland Career Specialists

I’m excited and honored to be a new team member of the fabulous Vicki Lind and Associates. We’re a team of now five local career service specialists in Portland, Oregon. The specialties I’ll be contributing to the team are Job Satisfaction Coaching and Career Advancement Coaching.

My teammates are:

The five us share a deep commitment to helping our clients make meaningful contributions and find prosperity and balance through their careers.

Check out our website!

by Ursina Teuscher (PhD), at Teuscher Decision Coaching, Portland OR

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Posted in Career Decisions, Counseling/Coaching

Inspired: How Awe Affects Our Decisions

Feelings of awe and wonder make us feel smaller, but richer in time. This affects our decisions in several interesting ways.

Awe is a powerful emotion that we feel when we encounter something so strikingly vast (grand, beautiful, or powerful) that it overwhelms our mental capacity. Some researchers describe such vastness as “provoking a need to update one’s mental schemas”, while the rest of us might more succinctly call it mind-blowing. These feelings can be induced experimentally, for example by having research participants stand in a grove of towering trees or looking at stunning images of the sky, space or landscapes.

It turns out feelings of awe have interesting effects on decision making.

For one, feelings of awe can lead to more ethical decisions, more generosity, as well as more compassion. For instance, research participants who experienced awe were more willing to volunteer their time to help others.

Another effect is that people who experienced awe preferred investing money into experiences rather than into material products. As I discussed in an earlier post, this is a decision pattern that can lead to more satisfaction and well-being.

How Awe Affects Our Decisions

Why does awe have these effects on our decisions?

One reason is probably that awe expands our sense of time. Research participants who experienced awe, felt they had more time available and were less impatient. This kind of expanded time perception certainly influences decisions. For example, not having enough time is an often-cited reason for not engaging in leisure activities, and so a sense of abundant time could well help people choose experiences over material goods. Time perception also affects moral choices: people act more helpfully towards others if they have extra time on their hands, rather than feeling rushed.

Another explanation is that feelings of awe lead to feelings of a “small self”. For example, taking in the vastness of a natural landscape can make us feel small and insignificant, which could explain why people feel less of a sense of entitlement after experiencing feelings of awe. Being reminded of our own smallness may help us take ourselves and our concerns a bit less seriously and focus on others instead.

How Awe Affects Our Decisions

Warning: Side-Effects

The experience of awe has one more effect that we should be aware of: it increases our supernatural beliefs. The reason for this might be that awe lowers our sense of control over the world, and when feelings of personal control are low, people turn to supernatural explanations, as a means of lowering the uncertainty and restoring a sense of control. Feelings of awe do indeed lower people’s tolerance for uncertainty, and people who have a low tolerance of uncertainty are more prone to magical thinking and superstitious behavior.

by Ursina Teuscher (PhD), at Teuscher Decision Coaching, Portland OR

Selected References:
Case, T. I., Fitness, J., Cairns, D. R., & Stevenson, R. J. (2004). Coping With Uncertainty: Superstitious Strategies and Secondary Control1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34(4), 848–871.
Darley, J. M., & Batson, C. D. (1973). “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27(1), 100–108.
Kay, A. C., Gaucher, D., McGregor, I., & Nash, K. (2010). Religious Belief as Compensatory Control. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14(1), 37–48.
Keinan G. (1994). Effects of stress and tolerance of ambiguity on magical thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 48–55.
Keinan G. (2002). The effects of stress and desire for control on superstitious behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 102–108.
Piff, P. K., Dietze, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D. M., & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(6), 883–899.
Rudd, M., Vohs, K. D., & Aaker, J. (2012). Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1130–1136.
Shiota, M., Keltner, D., & Mossman, A. (2007). The nature of awe. Cognition and Emotion, 21(5).
Valdesolo, P., & Graham, J. (2013). Awe, Uncertainty, and Agency Detection. Psychological Science, 956797613501884.
Van Boven, L., & Gilovich, T. (2003). To Do or to Have? That Is the Question. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(6), 1193–1202.

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Posted in Creativity, Decision-Making Tagged with:

German Translations of Decision Coaching Methods

(And you’ll also find some similar resources in English.)

I’m excited about my upcoming opportunity this month to teach several postgraduate seminars to career counselors in Switzerland again. The topic will be decision coaching methods: how to apply decision support tools in a career counseling setting. For that purpose I created course materials in German. I’m happy to share a part of those materials here, because I know some of my blog readers are native German speakers, or work with German-speaking clients, and have asked me before about resources in German.

The following are all downloadable pdf’s:German Translations of Decision Coaching Methods: Entscheidungshilfen in der Beratungsarbeit: Wegleitung und Methoden (Ursina Teuscher, PhD)

  1. Entscheidungshilfen in der Beratungsarbeit – Wegleitung und Methoden
    [Not the same, but the most similar resource I have in English: Decision making guideline – workshop handout with exercises]
  2. Vorlage für Szenarienbäume
    [In English: Paper/pencil template for scenario trees]
  3. Vorlagen für quantitative Entscheidungsmethoden
    [In English: Paper/pencil templates for decision tables and trees]

The first one is a guideline with exercises, outlining my framework and process for tackling difficult decisions. The German version includes a few more specific counseling methods than the English version.

German Translations of Decision Coaching Methods: SzenarienbaumThe second one is a template for a scenario tree that can give you clarity in thinking through risky options. Drawing this kind of scenario tree helps you get a clear structure into your thoughts or into a conversation by visualizing different courses of action and their possible consequences that are in or out of your control. It does not include a quantitive evaluation, but it is a good step in getting your thoughts ready for the quantitive part. Or, if you’re anything like myself or many of my clients or students, clarity may well hit you suddenly on the way there.

The third document contains several tools: two templates for classic decision matrices to evaluate options based on multiple criteria; a classic probability tree template to evaluate risky options; and also a less commonly found template that combines both of those tools, for decisions that involve multiple criteria as well as major risks.

German Translations of Decision Coaching Methods: Entscheidungsmethoden Quantitativ (Ursina Teuscher, PhD)Please feel free to use any part of these materials for your own personal use or to help others with their decisions. You can find more here among the rest of my collection of resources. (If you share any of this, I’m honored, and I appreciate your crediting the source as practical and appropriate. If you manage to sell it, I bow before you.)

Depending on your familiarity with decision support tools, you may or may not find these materials self-explanatory. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have questions about them.

by Ursina Teuscher (PhD), at Teuscher Decision Coaching, Portland OR

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Posted in Counseling/Coaching, Decision-Making, Problem Solving, Risk and Uncertainty