interview with a decision coach

I recently talked with Nell McShane Wulfhart, who has one of the most interesting jobs I’ve heard about in a long time: she’s a decision coach, someone who helps people make big decisions. It’s a job she invented, and it’s fascinating!

She’s also the author of The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet.

Here’s our conversation.

So what exactly is a decision coach?

A decision coach is someone who helps people make one big decision. I know this because I invented both this job and the title! I only offer one thing: a single session in which I coach someone who’s struggling with a big choice. So they come to me, I figure out the right decision for them, and then they can move forward. I think of myself as the person who makes a little stepstool with their hands so that someone can get up on the horse and ride away. And it’s incredibly fulfilling — hearing the sense of relief people have at the end of the call when the decision that’s been taking over their life has finally been made — it’s the best.

How did you get into doing this?

I’ve always been the person friends and family come to for straight-shooting, no-nonsense advice. Tell me a problem you have and my brain automatically goes to work identifying what needs to get done; I’m a fixer! And almost 10 years ago I realized just how many people struggle with decisions, getting really bogged down and remaining in a state where they don’t move forward with any choice for weeks/months/years. And in most of those cases, they just need a little help getting over the hump, and then they can start taking action. I realized I could help lots of people. I put up a website, and it just took off.

Any particularly interesting/wacky decisions you’ve helped with?

I’ve helped people decide all sorts of things. Whether to have a baby, start a side hustle, take a new job, move to a new city (so many people deciding between New York and LA!), go to grad school (usually the answer is no), retire, end a relationship (usually the answer is yes). I’ve helped multiple people choose between two lovers. And lots and lots of career decisions. But for sure there have been some unusual calls. I’ve helped someone who adopted a dog decide to rehome him (to a great family!). I’ve helped someone decide to get a tattoo removed. I just helped an Olympian decide whether or not to keep going in their athletic career. I once coached someone who was paying rent on two different apartments in the same (extremely expensive) city and just couldn’t decide which one they wanted to live in. And once someone hired me to help decide whether they should change the name of their two-month-old baby.

Did they change the name of the baby?!

Hahaha, when we got off the phone they were going to, but I never heard if they actually went through with it. I hope so!

Have you ever had a situation where you felt like the person was making the obviously wrong decision but was committed to it? How do you handle that, if so?

I’m going to get real here and tell you that the truth about making decisions is that nearly all the time people do what they want to do, not what they “should” do. Luckily, in most situations, those are the same thing. My job is 1) to help people figure out what they actually want and 2) write them a permission slip telling them it’s OK to do that. There’s only been one situation I’ve had where the thing someone wanted to do (leave their spouse and move across the country to be with someone new, leaving their young kids behind) and the thing they should do (leave the marriage but stay near the kids) were radically different. In that case I had to tell them that it wasn’t OK to do what they wanted. But most of the time, when people are choosing between two options, the thing they want to do is a great choice! I just have to help them figure out what that is.

It’s fascinating! What qualities do you think it takes to do this work well?

You have to be a great active listener — someone who can really hear what a person is saying behind the actual words. You have to be attuned to what people really want, not what they say they want. And you have to be willing to give it to them straight. No waffling! I have to tell people stuff that’s hard to hear (telling people to end a relationship, for example, is always tough) and I have to do it in a nice way. Of course, I get to deliver lots of good news too, and I love telling people that the idea they’ve had is worth going for.

You also have to be friendly and warm, and able to put people at ease, which is something I’ve always been good at. We often laugh a lot in the sessions; people go from anxious to relaxed pretty quickly.

And you have to be someone who’s good at sifting through the irrelevant stuff to find out the relevant stuff. I only spend an hour on the phone with someone and I need to be able to get to the heart of the dilemma right away. It takes a lot of practice!

I like that you offer just a single session. That must require you to figure out how to keep the time really structured and useful. How do you normally approach a session?

The single session concept is very deliberate. By the time people get to me, they’ve already put in many, many hours of thinking and researching and wondering (and often boring their families and friends!). So they’re at the point where more talking and researching and wondering is a complete waste of time. In fact, they probably passed that point a while ago!

My job is to release people from this state of indecision by helping them actually make the choice and identifying next steps. (My motto is “your therapist won’t tell you what to do but I will.”) So I ask clients to do two exercises before the call, identifying values and thinking about their Future Selves. Then we have the session, which usually takes around one hour. I get a sense of the person’s whole life, from hobbies to pets, because most big decisions affect every aspect of your life. I ask a lot of questions about the decision itself. We review their values and the life they want to have. And over the course of the hour it always becomes clear to me what they should do — the choice that has the highest chance of making them happy. I share this with them, along with the reasons I came to that decision. And then we plan their next steps, because I like to make sure they get off the phone with a plan of action.

I think there are a lot of professions where you have to structure your time with a client to get to the point really quickly, which is not always something clients will be good at, particularly when a problem feels big and nuanced. (I had to do it for years when I was running a management hotline that offered 15-minute phone calls to managers for advice on specific management challenges they were grappling with. I think people were often skeptical that 15 minutes would be enough — because it sounds like nothing! — and then often commented at the end of the call that they were shocked by how much we ended up getting done in that time.) Do you have any tricks of the trade to getting the info you need in order to help people without spending three-quarters of the call on laying out the initial problem?

Oh, that’s so interesting about that hotline … and also that’s a great business idea!! Yes, same here — clients often tell me at the end of a session that they had been extremely skeptical that we could get it done in an hour but they were pleasantly surprised. I think the reason I can get a decision made in an hour is that even if it takes a while just to describe the decision, if you’re listening hard that’s all intel. All the time the client is talking they’re giving you information about what they really want. I will occasionally stop a client who’s going off on a tangent, though, if I feel like they’re getting into the weeds too much, or if it seems like their anxiety brain is taking over. Also, I ask very good questions ;)

What are some general principles you could share about how to make hard decisions?

First of all, you’re probably taking too much time to make it. You want to think about big decisions, of course, and research your options. And I love a pros and cons list! But after a certain point, there are diminishing returns in continuing to deliberate. You don’t make a good decision by sitting around and wondering “would I like that?” You make it by trying the thing. Then you have tangible information as to whether you should keep doing it.

Imagine you’re thinking about starting a side hustle. It takes over your brain, like so many decisions — you think about it in the shower, when you wake up at 3 am, it seeps into your conversations with your partner. Six months go by and you’re still thinking about it, and still unsure. But if you’d tried it out, even in a very small way, by now you’d have actual data about whether it’s a viable business and whether you enjoy doing it. Based on this experience you could either double down or move on to something else. And this applies to so many decisions. Find a way to try the thing out! Less thinking, more doing is a generally good rule-of-thumb.

Also, recalibrate your risk assessment! This is especially relevant when it comes to things like making a choice to take a new job or stay put in your current one. People think moving to a new job is extremely risky, but realistically, the worst case scenario is not that you end up in prison, or you’re unable to feed your family. The realistic worst case scenario is that you end up in a job you don’t like very much. And … you’re probably already in that scenario. So the actual risk is low.

This is also true when it comes to starting a business, an issue lots of clients come to me to discuss. Starting a business is, they think, very risky. And OK, things might not work out! But in the United States at least, where we have at-will employment and you can be fired at any time for any reason, having a single employer is pretty risky! So I always advise people to try to take fear out of it as much as possible, and look at risk levels with a critical eye.

Last thing: I’ve noticed that other people’s opinions really dominate a person’s decision-making. Families exert pressure, friends weigh in, everyone has something to say (and often a stake in the decision). I think the reason people come to me is because I’m a completely neutral third party. So I’d encourage anyone trying to make a big decision to ask themselves what a stranger might tell them to do.

Do you ever hear back from people about how things turned out?

I always ask clients to get in touch down the road and let me know how things went, and I love to hear from them. My business is mostly one-and-done — I just help someone make that one big decision and then they go off and get on with their lives — but I definitely have repeat customers who come back with other decisions they need help with. Just last month someone I had helped decide to sell her house called me to help her decide whether to stick with a romantic relationship. So then I get to hear how things have worked out, and it’s always a thrill to learn how that person has taken action and that they’re no longer stuck in a rut.

To learn more about Nell’s work, visit

{ 234 comments… read them below }

  1. kimchi pickle*

    I would love to work with this person on a big decision I’m currently hemming and hawing about!

    1. 867-5309*

      Yes… I went to the website to see what the fee structure looks like. That is the only thing holding me back.

      Wait! Do I need to a pre-decision coach to help me determine if I want to go with a decision coach?

        1. Bob-White of the Glen*

          That seems a very fair price. Less than lawyers, hourly fee-only financial planners, and accountants. I’d pay that for a big decision to get finalized.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Yeah it’s more than my hourly rate as a freelancer but my jobs are never restricted to one hour only, and if they were, I’d charge about that amount.

    2. As If*

      Same! My only question is whether she does sessions with couples. My husband and I are on the fence about a huge financial/career move that impacts us both pretty equally, and we have different approaches to the decision. I could imagine that having two people in a 1-hour session to make a huge decision might be challenging, though.

      1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

        I coach couples all the time! And I should note that an hour is the usual time for a session, but there’s no official time limit–we work until the decision gets made and next steps are in place. Drop me an email if you have more questions! nell at decideandmoveforward dot com

    1. Hen in a Windstorm*

      Yeah, I thought this sounded really interesting. I’m a “omg, stop talking about it and DO IT already” person and people have always liked to tell me their problems.

  2. Up and Away*

    What a fascinating interview! I’m so curious if Nell has her clients sign some sort of document holding her blameless from any repercussions that may happen as a result of the decision made.

      1. beanie*


        Also, now I’m picturing the 30 Rock episode where Liz is giving relationship advice, which is always DEALBREAKER!

  3. I should really pick a name*

    I’d love to know if she’s had to deal with people who didn’t like the outcome of the decision that she suggested and how she handles that.

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      Happily, I have not had this problem. I try to make sure that every client knows that I cannot predict the future, and that we’re making the best decision possible based on what we know at the time!

  4. bamcheeks*

    Huh, this is interesting. In the UK, careers practitioners aren’t counsellors with a therapeutic counselling qualification as (I believe?) they are in the US– we are a specific profession which is neither counselling nor coaching (although with a big crossover with coaching), and guidance, defined as supporting people to make decisions, as distinct from advice and information, is pretty much the core unique skill. So it’s kind of wild to me to see “decision coach” framed as a completely unique when that’s kind of at the heart of how my profession sees itself!

    1. vegan velociraptor*

      But presumably you aren’t providing advice on, e.g., ending romantic relationships? The difference here seems to be that the coach will guide on any decision at all, not career related decisions in particular.

      1. bamcheeks*

        As a profession, no, but I have done that informally with friends using exactly the same process as I’d use in work!

    2. Secret Squirrel*

      Hi, I’m in the UK. My limited experience of careers information was at school and university, over 20 years ago and neither one was helpful then. Do careers practitioners now all work in that sort of institution/public sector, or is there this sort of independent practitioner role too? My sister saw a life coach for a while a few years ago about careers issues and presumably that person covered other aspects too if wanted, but that was things like coaching on making applications rather than “work out what you want to do”, and I wasn’t at all sure that there was enough demand to provide a regular income from the work. I’d really like to find something that would fit in round my health limitations!

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yes, there are plenty of independent practioners! The Career Development Institute maintains a register of practitioners, and you can search it to find someone. I don’t know if this will let me post a link, but if you google CDI it should come up, and there’s a link to “find a registered professional” under Professional Register.

        I’ve just checked and it’s geared towards “search by location” — which seems very quaint post-covid. You can check “client group” to find people who are used to working with career changers / adults, though. Not everyone who comes up will offer freelance services, but you should be able to look through and find a few people who do and get in touch to find out whether they have experience/expertise in working with people with disbilities and health limitations. :)

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I’m an Employment Counselor (Master’s in Counseling) for my state. So I’ve been trained as a counselor for a range of settings – mental health, school guidance, etc. The way I do my job sounds like this UK model, where I do the listening thing, but also the “here’s the research and decision tools” thing and the “let’s get your butt in gear and just do it” thing. It all depends on who the customer is that day.

      Now that I think of it, typically I can do most of this in an hour, and launch my job seeking fledgling out of their nests, with only an occasional follow up conversation (which usually is an email that says “Here’s what I’ve done am I on the right track?” or “OMG, I did the thing and now I’m working!” ).

      1. bamcheeks*

        My qualification is equivalent to 2/3 of a masters degree (I could have done a dissertation and got a full MA, but I already had one MA and didn’t feel like getting another and you only need the Postgrad diploma to register.) But we have no therapeutic training at all— I am very much not a counsellor!

    4. Pierrot*

      A therapist is usually not going to tell you what to do unless there’s a clear safety risk involved. There are some methods of therapy that are more direct, but generally therapists are there to help you figure out what you actually want to do and propose potential solutions- they’re not going to tell you in one session to leave your job or go back to school. Also, the one session thing distinguishes the interviewee’s role from psychotherapy and even a lot of coaches.

      I didn’t complete my master’s in social work so I was not a therapist but I was at one point a case manager who did motivational interviewing. I had a couple of clients who were very indecisive about breaking up with their partners and would ask me outright what they should do. I would ask questions to help them through the process of deciding whether the relationship was worthwhile and I even said to someone one time “We’ve had a lot of conversations about this and I think you know what you want to do” but I didn’t make decisions for them.

  5. Cold and Tired*

    Fascinating! I work with so many clients that struggle to make what are fairly small decisions so we can move forward with projects, so I’ll have to keep some of this in mind.

    Also, it’s so true about people overinflating the worst case scenario. I spent time in my company’s overseas office, and when I came back to the US I was approved to work remote instead of in the town our headquarters were in. I could either move back to my hometown (sizeable city near family, but I’d never really lived there as an adult) or to the major city in the region (much more urban which fit with the lifestyle I’d led for a few years but further from family and more expensive). I chose the hometown, which ended up just not being the right fit for me. Guess what? I still got a year of good family time out of it, and I ended up moving to the other city a year later with no doubts left so I was able to confidently purchase a condo instead of just renting. It all worked out despite making the “wrong” choice. I’ve never really been one to be paralyzed by fear of the what ifs, but that really gave me a lot of confidence moving forward to not let that get to me.

    1. Generic Name*

      This is such an important reminder. There are very few decisions that are actually permanent or can’t be changed or tweaked later.

    2. Indigo a la mode*

      Your story is a great case study of “so what if it fails?” To paraphrase Edison, your hometown move didn’t work for you, but that wasn’t a waste. You just learned more about what would work for you. That’s a win in my book.

      My mom counseled me a few years back to use Ben Carson’s four questions when approaching a decision: What’s the best thing that could happen if I do it? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I do it? What’s the best thing that could happen if I don’t do it? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I don’t do it?

      I like that approach because it forces me to identify the opportunities both where I am and where I’m considering going, as well as the risks of not trying the new thing.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I like Cynthia Heimel’s take on it: The worst that can happen is that you will have made a terrible mistake.*

        That sounds awful and like something to be avoided, but the fact is, all of us will make at least one terrible mistake, and will have to deal with it. Accepting that makes it easier to cope with consequences and make new, better decisions.

        *With the caveat, obviously, that this doesn’t go for things with permanent consequences that can affect others as well as yourself, like having a child.

    3. seeeeeps*

      I can remember the very first big career risk I took back in 2014. I was driving home, and out of the blue, clear as daylight, my brain said “What’s the worst that could happen?” And I thought about it and realized the fear of the risk I’d built up was bigger than the risk itself. So we did it. And what someone told me would happen, happened. And … it was fine. We move on. Learned a lot about the process.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah…there’s a lot of fear of failure, fear of being judged by other people and fear of people saying ‘I told you so’ in these things. It can be really difficult to get past that and just decide to give it a go!

    4. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      Love this! Also, I sometimes advise clients to replace “what if” with “even if” when they’re trying to make a decision–it can be a good reminder that things will likely be OK even if not perfect.

    5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Same. I’m more a “making no decision is worse than making the wrong one” type. Of course I have had to admit I screwed up and reverse course on occasion, but that isn’t even a bad thing because now you know the right decision.

  6. Alexandra*

    While the interview was very interesting, I honestly can’t imagine paying someone to talk me through what could essentially be solved by a good pro/con list.

    1. Bee*

      Whenever I’m struggling enough with a decision to make a pro/con list, the list itself doesn’t help; it’s basically just a list of the reasons I can’t make up my mind. I would LOVE if the act of writing it down gave me any clarity, but alas.

      1. A Girl Named Fred*

        Same here. I would love to be someone more like my partner, who thinks briefly about a decision and then Acts on it and has never once gotten bogged down by pros/cons. But alas, I’m not, and sometimes just having someone else hold a mirror up to me and say, “You’ve been talking about doing X for three years, go do it already!” is enough to actually shake me into action.

        I can totally see how people like my partner would not benefit from this service, but I definitely would.

        1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

          My husband and I are the same way, but with the roles reversed. I am an extremely decisive person and he is…not. I love him, we’ve been happily married for 28 years and he has so many wonderful qualities, but making decisions is SO HARD for him no matter how clearly he lays out the pros/cons and best/worst outcomes. It’s like he can get himself 99.9% there but gets stuck on that last .01%, so I usually just tell him after he’s been dithering for a long time, “Look, either pull the trigger one way or the other, or I can’t listen to you talk about this anymore. Sh*t or get off the pot.”

          Someone like my husband would definitely be a prime candidate for OP, as I think much of the time he’s just looking for someone to give him permission to do what he wants to do in the first place. I don’t get it at all, but I don’t really have to – everyone’s brains work differently!

        2. Irish Teacher*

          Yeah, I was thinking very much of a friend of mine. I am like your partner and my friend is…well, one of the most indecisive people I have ever met. Her mother was laughing once because we were out shopping and my friend was standing looking at some piece of clothing, deciding whether or not to buy it, I got bored, wandered off, saw something I liked, bought it and came back to find her still staring at the item, trying to decide.

          I think this service would suit her perfectly, except…I’m not sure she’d get to the point of deciding to use it.

    2. Blue*

      I appreciate her emphasis on what decision will make the person happy/give them the life they want. When I do a pro/con process solo, I can get super bogged down in guessing what others will do/think in a way that crowds out my own voice. I would have loved someone to just tell me “you clearly want to transition, just freakin do it!” instead of spending 3 years making lists. And there’s something about paying an unbiased third party to tell me to do the thing that I think would be especially effective.

      1. Jay*

        Like when a friend turned to me one day and said “you really want to retire. You’ve been talking about for a couple of years.” It was true, and I was so mired in my concerns about what other people would think that I hadn’t even articulated to myself that I wanted to. I still had to work through some stuff about being self-indulgent, which went far more quickly once I realized that I wasn’t really ambivalent about the decision itself. I retired less than a year after she made that comment.

      2. SJ (they/them)*

        There is definitely a sub-career here that is just “person you call to tell you yes, you should transition.”

    3. Mid*

      And plenty of people can’t imagine paying a massage therapist for what could essentially be solved by a good tennis ball against a wall, but it’s very beneficial for many people! (Also this is not me saying that massage therapy is useless–it’s awesome.)

      Having a neutral third party can make things more clear, and can help weigh out the pros and cons in a less biased view. For example, if you’re asking “should I move to a new city?” and one of the pros is “my career options will massively expand and I’ll have a lot more financial freedom” and one of the cons is “my dog doesn’t like long car rides,” those aren’t equally important issues, but can *feel* equally important when you’re deep into the overthinking stage of trying to make a decision.

      1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

        Yes, THIS. When you’ve spent a ton of time thinking about a decision, you get bogged down in smaller and smaller details which take on outsize importance.

    4. ThatGirl*

      Some people see those but feel frozen by anxiety or general indecision and need an external force to … well, give them permission. I get it.

    5. CheesePlease*

      Clearly this service is niche and not for everyone. Sometimes you need the external unbiased person to help you. How many times has Allison’s advice been “you need to clearly communicate X” and I’m sure the LW knows that already! But it’s hard to do it if you’ve worked it up in your brain. I know a few people who could benefit from this service.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Yes, we see that the answer to a lot of other people’s problems is, “You need to clearly communicate X”, and part of us suspects that’s the answer for us, too, but we have to write in and say, “Really? even in a case like this?” and hear, “Yes, even in a case like this”, and then we’re like, “Dang it, I knew that!” It’s like when I use the GPS to confirm where I’m already going.

    6. Empress Matilda*

      Oh, I would definitely pay for something like this! Because I can make a pro/con list FOREVER, to the point that I’ve identified every single possible detail related to the decision, and still not make the decision.

      I’m not sure if it’s an ADHD-thing or just a Matilda-thing, but either way – I do a lot of overthinking. And therapy makes it worse, because the goal of therapy is to get to the “why” of a problem, which leads to overthinking about my overthinking! I would happily pay a stranger to cut through all the chaos in my brain and give me a solid plan for what to do next.

    7. Topfengolatsche*

      As a very decisive person married to a very indecisive person, I would think that this would be really helpful for an indecisive person without a patient decisive person in their life. Until you have lived through the process, you can’t imagine how complicated some people can find decision making.

      1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        I’m in the same boat and agree with you completely. We’ve married for 28 years and I still don’t get why it’s so hard for him! I’ve tried over the years to help him with tools to be more decisive, and I think he has gotten a smidge better especially with small ones, but at the end of the day he’s just not wired that way. His mom is the same way and they both have ADHD, so I think that plays into it a lot. I have to bit my tongue constantly if the three of us go out to dinner together, as they can waffle between menu choices for 20-30 minutes before I point out that the server would probably like to turn the table at least once that evening.

        1. Bee*

          Personally, my problem is that I’m really bad at identifying what I *want.* No amount of decision-making tools can help if you just aren’t sure about that! (Or if you’ve spent enough of your life being made to feel it’s bad to want things, eek.) It’s possible it’s ADHD-related; it’s also possible that his mom never learned that skill and so was never able to teach him. I am…….working on it.

    8. FairweatherAdventures*

      I’m a financial coach (and regular commenter under a different name) and I sometimes feel like that about what I do – but that’s because personal finance comes easily to my brain. Plenty of things don’t, just like plenty of people find it really hard to follow what “everyone knows” about money management. We all outsource things we either can’t or don’t want to do on our own. I could make all my clothes, but I prefer to buy most of them already made.

  7. ThatGirl*

    I do find that the vast majority of the time, if you’re spending a lot of time considering leaving a relationship, it’s time to do it.

    But I also totally understand how sometimes people need “permission” to do something – even though I’m a pretty action-oriented person, I still sometimes ask my friends or loved ones for that “permission”.

    1. Sorcyress*

      Yes! Recognizing that I (and my friends) sometimes just need external permission has been so useful! I’ve got a core group of people who I will sometimes ask for permission to do small things like skip going to an optional dance class –because they gave me permission, I don’t feel guilty and can better spend the evening doing what *I* want!

      1. SaltedChocolateChip*

        Or someone to do the “Now that you’ve decided, let me help you talk through your next steps” follow-up call, because that’s MY specialty and something I’ve wondered about doing for folks on a constituting basis! :)

          1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

            Email me and let’s talk about it! Sometimes people want more accountability than I can offer.

      2. Properlike*

        Same: “Perhaps she’ll license her model.” :)

        But it does prompt me to start charging for the time I spend talking parents and kids through school-related stuff (I am not a school or district employee). No more hours-long free advice giving.

  8. Despachito*

    This seems very interesting!

    But the little sceptic in the back of my head says – that is a LOT of confidence that she is going to be able to tell people what to do after JUST ONE HOUR session. I understand that it is probably about finding out “what you are hoping if you toss the coin and it is still in the air”, but still – one hour is very short.

    And how does she handle situations when she tells the client “do A” and it goes wrong? Do the clients blame her for that? That is a lot of responsibility, and I think shrinks do not do that for a reason.

    Overall – it sounds fantastic and magic-like, and it can very well be my lack of knowledge/experience/imagination, but so far, it seems to me just too nice to be real.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      I would imagine she has a standard disclaimer/ waiver to the effect that she provides advice but the client is ultimately responsible for the decision and its impact. If I were setting myself up in a job like that, I would definitely have this wording in big bold letters up front before any money changes hands!

    2. bamcheeks*

      My job is supporting people to make decisions, and in practice it never comes down to telling people what they should do– I would guess that in practice that’s the business tagline, but by the time you get to the end of the hour, the client has told you very clearly which way they want to go, and what form of “permission” they need from you. I would guess that a lot of it is also your much more typical coaching skills of figuring out HOW to make a decision, working out what the steps are towards making that a reality, and how to work around obstacles.

      1. Sandi*

        I have also done a job where I offered advice to people about business decisions. They would sometimes disagree with me, because my advice was from a specific point of view and only meant to be one part of the puzzle, but I often found that giving them the recommendation pushed them to decide.

        I have since done this with people in my personal life. If they can’t choose then I tell them to mentally plan to do A for a week, or I flip a coin for them. If they are fighting that plan or still obsessing over it a week later then they probably wanted to do B from the start. Often if I am completely indecisive then I will pick one option and sit on it for a while. If I’m happy with that decision later, then I act on it. There was always a chance that another decision would have been slightly better, but I will never know and I’m happy with what was decided.

        I also agree that many people know what decision they want to make, but seek permission from someone else.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        Exactly. Most people are surrounded by advice as to what they “should” do. The point of this kind of session is to sort out what they actually want and need to do.

    3. TreeFrogEditor*

      This is where I land, too. I can’t wrap my head around the part where she says “I figure out the right decision for them” after talking to clients for a one-hour session, or the idea that she’s able to “get a sense of the person’s whole life.”

      The idea of talking through a big/angsty decision with a totally neutral third party for an hour is very appealing, and I completely buy that she has lots of takers for this service! It’s part of the business model for counselors, coaches, and therapists of all kinds. The extreme confidence and certainty about the results is what I find odd.

      1. t4ci3*

        She isn’t telling then what to do, she’s helping them figure out what it is they want to do and telling them that it’s okay to do that.

        1. TreeFrogEditor*

          “I figure out the right decision for them” is a verbatim quote from the interview. She also says later on: “And over the course of the hour it always becomes clear to me what they should do — the choice that has the highest chance of making them happy. I share this with them, along with the reasons I came to that decision.”

          You’re right that elsewhere in her responses she also uses phrases like “help them figure out,” but it’s clear overall from this interview (and the fact that sessions always end with a decision) that telling clients what they should do is part of the framework.

          1. NLR*

            You are being weirdly literal. It is clearly understood by clients that this will be her opinion based on their conversation, not the word of God from on high. They are signing up to hear her opinion.

          2. Rocky*

            Tree frog, I read “figure out the right decision for them” as “figure out what this individual person wants in their heart of hearts”. Emphasis on THEM rather than emphasis on FOR. Does that help?

          3. bamcheeks*

            So as a guidance practitioner, the definition of my job is to support people to make decisions, but making sure they retain ownership of the decision. This sounds a *little* more directive than we would be generally, but “here’s what I think you want to do, and here’s why I came to that conclusion” is not an outlandish technique that we would NEVER use. You probably wouldn’t use it with someone who was vulnerable, who was looking to offload the responsibility for their decision-making or who you didn’t trust to hear it as as a reflection of what they have been telling you. But after forty to fifty minutes of speaking to someone (plus whatever pre-sessional work you’ve done to contract and explain the advantages and limitations of your process), you probably would be pretty sure whether or not this was someone who understood that they retain responsibility for the actual decision. You pretty quickly get a sense for someone who is looking for someone to tell them what to do, and in those situations it wouldn’t be hard to use much less directive language to try and help them find the “yes I want this outcome” themselves.

            A few people have commented that a therapists don’t tell people what to do– one of the reasons this *isn’t* therapy is because it’s a fixed-term, very short relationship– therapists have to be much more careful with the power relationship because they are frequently talking to people who are mentally unwell and potentially vulnerable and because part of the point of many therapeutic approaches is the relationship between the counsellor and the client and it’s not unusual for the client to seek approval from the counsellor. I am sure “I want your approval” plays a part in Nell’s interactions– that’s kind of the point of her being able to give people permission –but because it’s not a sustained relationship it’s much less intense.

  9. irene adler*

    I understand that this is a one-and-done service.
    Just wondering: is where to obtain subsequent support pertaining to the decision to be made part of the discussion ?

  10. CatCat*

    Fascinating interview. I could see a lot of people benefitting from this, especially those that research things to death instead of actually making a decision.

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      Too much research is DEFINITELY a common thing. If you find yourself constantly saying, “let me read just one more article on this”….it’s probably time to decide ;)

      1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        I even ran into this as a professional dance teacher for adults. Sometimes my students would just want me to keep tweaking the choreography over and over and over again. “What if I turned to the left instead of the right here?” or “Do you think this hand flourish is too much? It is. No wait, it’s not” for weeks on end. Made me crazy and was one of the reasons I left that line of work.

        Finally I would just have to say, “we can keep working on this forever in the studio just you and me at $X per hour, or you can put on a beautiful costume and perform it for an audience. What sounds like more fun to you?” Sometimes that’s all it would take.

  11. A Girl Named Fred*

    That note about starting a business or side hustle being as risky as having a single employer is really interesting to me. I’m someone who has considered doing something where I’m my own boss, but always balked at the last moment because of a fear of instability and too high a risk. Maybe it’s time to get really clear eyed about it and actually give it a go. Thank you for sharing the interview, Alison, and thank you Nell for agreeing to be interviewed!

    1. Mid*

      Yeah, it was an interesting point, though I’m not sure if I agree with it.

      While you can lose employment at any time, you aren’t losing all of your savings/business investments/whatever else. You can also qualify for unemployment insurance, a process which is much more difficult if you’ve been self-employed, from what I understand. I think starting your own business feels more risky than it actually is, when done properly (such as not putting personal assents on the line for business funding, knowing the local laws and regulations, etc.), but I don’t think it’s necessarily *equally* as risky as having one employer.

      But, if you have a business that you’re passionate about, you should give it a go! Like everything else, it’s not a permanent decision, and if it doesn’t work out, you can always try something else in the future.

    2. Bee*

      The reminder that you don’t always have to go for things full-tilt was interesting too – I regularly tell people “just try it out! you don’t have to keep it if you don’t like it!” in my job, but am often guilty of really binary thinking in my own life.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Even decisions that feel HUGE and NO TAKESY-BACKSIES, like a major in college, can be changed with far less problems, storm and stress then people think going in. If you think you might like to be a lawyer, it’s okay to take pre-law and decide it’s not for you after all. That’s the entire point, to help people sort out what they thought they wanted from being a lawyer from the real aspects of the profession.

        Of course, there really are decisions that you can’t take back, like kids, but even then the actual experience of child raising is far different from the mental projections of it.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          When I was a senior in high school, I was talking to a classmate about college and I said something along the lines of “and if I don’t like it there, I’ll just transfer.” And my classmate visibly relaxed and said “I forgot transferring was an option. I feel so much better about putting my deposit down now.”

          College felt like a huge This Will Determine The Rest Of Your Life decision, and the reminder that actually, you can leave if it’s not working for you was a huge relief.

    3. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      I’m such a massive AAM fan (I think I’ve read every single post for the last five years) so this was absolutely a career highlight!!

    4. J*

      As someone who is employed elsewhere but has worked with entrepreneurs for about a decade and had a dad who left it all to be self-employed, I can’t be convinced that one is more/less risky for the average person. That said, I do think there are some risks based on pre-existing health conditions, existing debt and outgoing payments you can’t control (e.g. kids, child support, etc.) that might make the risk of failure too high to involve others in. There’s also some risk in what you are launching. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve seen launch a business for essentially pocket change versus others putting in $200,000 just to launch.

      The risk of staying put is also it’s own risk. I have a pre-existing health condition in a state with no real health insurance marketplace and my condition also means that I’m healthy until I need emergency treatment when something fails or cancer comes back. But if I change jobs, I lose things like FMLA for 1 year and health insurance for 3 months (though I can rely on COBRA or my spouse’s workplace to fill the gap). But somehow I assign more security to changing jobs than to working for myself, even though I’ve just listed one way I can get insurance…and I change jobs somewhat frequently these days. I also got laid off in the pandemic, so the security I believe in isn’t as realistic as I thought it was. My dad ultimately retired early after about 5 different small business ventures with various degrees of success. I think we also don’t think about how many jobs are really small businesses, like accounting and law firms with small ownership groups, or even just an online website like this one.

      I think you’re right on to discover what your fears are but also to challenge the risk of facing the worst case scenario. I know I’m no decision maker, but I’m someone who in the last 2 years realized I might not be assessing my risks properly and I’m likely going to have my next endeavor be through self-employment.

  12. Frankie*

    My wicked side wants to sign my FIL up for one of these sessions. The decisions he needs to make are endless. His ability to talk his way out of making any of them are boundless. He could demolish one of these sessions like Godzilla rampages Tokyo.

    1. Lead Balloon*

      I would think it only works with people who are committed to making a decision. If someone was persuaded heavily to do the session I think they might well feel like they were persuaded to make their decision (if they were sufficiently motivated to even make a decision) and not follow through.

      1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

        This is true. I sometimes offer “gifted” sessions, but only about half the people actually use them, so I should probably stop. It’s hard to push other people into making decisions, even though it can be so frustrating to watch them not-decide…!

  13. Dark Macadamia*

    This was so interesting. Now I’m curious if Nell ever struggles with big decisions and who she asks for help!

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      Honestly, I struggle more with small decisions. Big decisions are easy for me, but sometimes at the end of the day I run out of energy and can’t figure out what to eat for dinner ;)

      1. Sandi*

        I read somewhere that we have a maximum number of good decisions that we can make each day. From what I remember, they quoted Obama in the article and he said that he never made the small decisions like what to eat or wear because he needed all his energy for big decisions.

        1. Dr. Doll*

          A very good reason for women to try to free themselves from the small day to day household or team-management decisions. The reason Obama didn’t have to worry about what to eat and wear was because someone ELSE was worrying about what he ate and made sure he had an endless supply of suits.

          1. coffee*

            Good point about the extra labour women do in the household.

            In terms of more actionable advice, my understanding is that Obama had a wardrobe of suits and ties and just rotated through them. So you can adapt this to your own life, e.g. once you have bought your work outfits, you store them together in your cupboard and just work your way across them each morning, no thought needed. Put together a list of “standard” dinners and just cook what’s on the roster, no need to decide between meals. Etc.

          2. Chickaletta*

            For all those women (and men) wondering how to free themselves of daily wardrobe decisions, google “wardrobe capsule”. It’s changed how I approach dressing and I spend 10 seconds max choosing an outfit in the mornings. If 10 seconds is still too much decision-making for you, some wardrobe capsules offer daily outfit charts which takes out 100% of the decision-making.

        2. Librarian goals*

          Nell’s comment about small decisions and what Sandi said about a sort of quota of daily decisions are so true!

          My husband and I both tend to minimize small decisions by limiting to a core wardrobe and cooking/eating the same foods. It really works for us!

          And it makes it much easier for me to devote time to the big decisions (but I still could have used a coach a few times!).

          I followed a healthy eating guy for a while, he pointed out that holding a “bright line” about what to eat was easier than making many small decisions each day about should I break my line for this, or this, or this ….

          1. Sincerely Raymond Holt*

            This is why I meal-plan on the weekends so there are no decisions each night about what to have for dinner. I decide on Saturday morning and grocery shop for the week. We also look at the school cafeteria menu and have the kiddos pick out the days they will take school lunch. It’s not too far of a stretch to say that the daily question of “what’s for dinner?” nearly drove my husband and me to divorce.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            Yeah, my husband and I grocery shop once a week for our meals. We pick out the meals ahead of time, check to see what we need to buy/use up, and go from there. We work weird hours so we don’t have the time and mind space to make same-day decisions about our dinner over and over.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              And like you, this has led to a happy partnership rather than a battle in a divorce attorney’s office! :)

      2. Jules the First*

        Pancakes. The answer, when you cannot decide what to have for dinner, is always pancakes.

  14. Madame X*

    This is fascinating! I think i might need her services, LOL. I love to hear how people figure out how to create their own position to sell a service that no one (or few?) people are offering to address a common problem.

  15. iNot*

    I love learning about interesting careers like this in the coaching realm because that is the area I currently work in. A few weeks about I met a friendship coach. Now a decision coach. I want to open a side coaching business, so seeing the many facets is interesting.

  16. Hiring Mgr*

    Interesting.. A friend of mine who’s a general life coach offers something like this. For urgent, time bound decisions she’ll do a one time session like Nell. For longer term ones she’ll do it in several sessions, but with the focus still on the decision.

  17. PleaseNo*

    This is a perfect job for all those know-it-all guys out there who jump to solutions and skip the empathy (though I think/hope she relays the empathy before guiding people to a decision).

    1. Irish Teacher*

      Not sure those guys usually give good advice either though, since in order to give good advice, one has to actually listen. I think they have generally decided on the solution they will propose before they even hear the problem. Plus, they are often giving advice on situations they know nothing about and again, aren’t willing to listen because they think they know more about the situation than the person actually in it.

      (Thinking of people who give advice on teaching who have no teaching experience and whose advice is sometimes not even legal or is based on “what they saw on this TV show once” or is so obvious it was the first thing I tried or would work in an ideal situation but unfortunately, there are students who have found a way to use that to bully others or skip class or whatever.)

      Presumably, Nell actually does listen and takes into account what is feasible for the person/situation she is advising (on).

  18. AMT*

    As a therapist, I love this. Much of my work with anxious clients is gradually helping them get comfortable with more and more risk—because, as Nell says in the interview, most of the time, the worst-case scenario is not prison or death, but mild inconvenience. The more you make risky decisions, the more comfortable your brain gets with making those kinds of decisions. But sometimes I wish I could send someone to a professional decision maker (or, really, just get them to flip a coin) because *any* decision is usually better than stalling, and making an arbitrary decision between two mostly-okay options with incomplete information about what’s going to happen in the future is a great way to learn that you can adapt to new scenarios and won’t die or go to prison.

  19. The Wizard Rincewind*

    Dang, my spouse and I could use this in our home-buying journey right now! What an interesting service to offer when you’re someone who enjoys and is good at active listening and interacting with people.

  20. Whence*

    There are really good reasons she won’t say what that baby’s name was, but dang, I’m so curious.

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      I’m so sorry I have to withhold that info!!! I know, I’d also be dying of curiosity!

      1. t4ci3*

        “You’re right, ‘Judy’ is a better choice, but her car title has been made out to Celebration of Life for a few years, do you think that will be hard to transfer?

    2. hayling*

      Same same same! Also more than that I want to know why they chose the original name and why they wanted to change it!

  21. TradeMark*

    I am totally imagining a book/romcom about the decision coach who always has things figured out having a meet-cute with…I’m not sure who, but someone who makes her re-think all her decisions :)

    Fascinating job. Thanks for sharing it!

  22. Erie*

    Hi Nell! This is fascinating and I love it and you sound VERY good at your job!

    Heads up about a typo on your website – it says “should I take quit my job?”

    Also, this is a weird question for Alison but I’m always curious about how interviews like this work. It sounds like you changed your questions based on the responses, but it also looks like Nell’s responses were submitted in writing, so did you email one question at a time, or use a chat client or something? The same question always occurs to me whenever I read an interview but I’ve never asked!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I usually do two rounds of questions via email — the first one fairly general and then the second set building on the answers from the first round. (Although I just did one that’s coming on Halloween and I could not stop asking questions. That has never happened before; usually I exercise some moderation because otherwise I could go on forever.)

  23. lou*

    I would absolutely love to know how Nellmanaged to turn this into a career, because I honestly think I would be so good at this! I’ve had to learn to ask people whether they want advice or want to vent, because my instinct is also to jump in and start problem-solving.
    (My advice is almost always “yes, you should break up with them”.)

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      Heh, I had to learn that too! It took years! As to how I turned this into a career: I put up a website, started off with referrals from friends, wrote a bunch of articles on decision-making (I had been a freelance writer so this was probably easier for me than for most), and now I get clients through Google or referrals. It takes a while, but if it’s a side project then it’s low-risk. Go for it!

      1. lou*

        Thanks so much for responding! I’m genuinely considering this now. Would you mind if I emailed you at some point if I have questions? (No hard feelings if not, but I am fascinated.)

  24. Vistaloopy*

    Oof…as a licensed clinical psychologist, this gets my hackles up a bit. There’s a *reason* therapists don’t tell you what to do. No one has any business telling someone that they should or shouldn’t have a baby, for example. You can cause real harm to people if you aren’t appropriately trained (we had to explain this to nurses at my old job who thought they could provide therapy to patients and were getting bad outcomes). I get why the idea has appeal, and maybe I sound like a curmudgeon, but this sounds like a therapy-adjacent service being performed by an uncredentialed person, which is actually quite dangerous.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I can see your point. I have some counseling training/experience but for some reason, this does not sound as therapy adjacent to me as it could.

      I’d be curious if Nell ever stopped a session because she felt she needed to refer anyone to services that were more clearly counseling services.

    2. Bumblebee*

      I actually think the fact that these are one-hour, one-time sessions mitigates this issue to a large extent. At the end of the day it’s just one conversation with a stranger. It’s much different than talking through an issue with someone you’re in relationship with in real life – even a therapeutic relationship. The client is in full control of the outcome after that conversation.

    3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Maybe nobody has any business telling someone that they should or shouldn’t have a baby, but a lot of people do. It sounds like Nell is helping people make their own decisions by thinking about their own values and their future selves.

      “Do I want to have a baby, or am I considering it because it will make other people happy?” is a useful question, regardless of the answer. So is “if you have a baby, it will change X Y Z, are you OK with that?”

      1. Nancy*

        But it sounds like she does more than ask probing questions, it appears as though she flat out says, “Have a baby” or “Quit your job”.

        1. Vistaloopy*

          That’s exactly what I was getting at. It’s not necessarily the process of helping someone make a decision, as that is certainly useful, but the actual recommending of a specific course of action- particularly on decisions that have massive ramifications and can’t be undone.
          Some of the process, as described, sounds a bit like motivational interviewing, which is a tool for guiding someone toward a decision, but a) it’s a therapy technique and you need to be trained in it, and b) during said training, you are taught that it is only appropriate for certain types of decisions that have an objectively better answer (e.g., the decision to quit smoking, making healthy diet changes, etc.) – not for decisions that have no clear answer (such as deciding between 2 lovers, having a child, or so forth).
          Nell, I would be interested to hear your response to this concern? If I’m misunderstanding what you do, I’m certainly open to hearing that as well!

          1. NLR*

            To me this concern seems overblown. She isn’t marketing herself as God, the person who can give you The One True Answer. She’s saying she’ll help you sort through a decision and make a recommendation. It’s up to you to decide what to do with it from there.

          2. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

            Hi! I totally understand your concerns! I always make it very clear, including on my website, that I am not a therapist, licensed counselor, or doctor. When it comes to the kind of questions you mentioned (choosing between two lovers, having a baby, etc) I’m quite not sure that I agree with you that there’s no clear answer…and I have definitely found that the experience of being caught for a long time between two options, unable to settle on either one, SO detrimental to people’s well-being that making a decision (no matter what it is!) is really imperative. I will also say that by the time people come to me, a complete stranger on the internet, for help making a decision, they are usually at the point where a decision NEEDS to be made and I just do my best to make sure they’re going for the thing they want. I don’t claim more than that! But I take your point and understand what you’re saying.

            1. Vistaloopy*

              Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Nell! It’s interesting to see others’ perspectives on this. My professional background certainly affects my interpretation of things.

          3. Bad Unicorn*

            Fwiw, I’ve been trained in motivational interviewing as a not-mental health professional, and it was not at all framed as a tool to only be used when there was an objectively better decision. Yes, those scenarios were included as examples, but I was taught it was fine to use it for scenarios where there’s no wrong decision. I think you’re viewing this so strongly through the lens of your profession that it’s creating some tunnel vision.

          4. Despachito*

            I am no trained professional but it is exactly my concern too.

            It appears to me that Nell has very good interpersonal skills and is able to help the client to realize what they really want, but is completely self-taught and has no professional background, and I agree this can be dangerous, however appealing it may sound.

            The quickness of the decision, her certainty she is able to get to the core in such a short time and put her finger on the right thing for a person who was a complete stranger an hour ago, and the decisiveness of her solution and lack of doubts are all red flags to me, and give me the vibes of “I do not know what I do not know” sort. I can be indecisive myself but if I sought help in this case I would go to someone who has a solid professional background.

    4. Nancy*

      She has responded to most of the comment/questions of substance (meaning other that “ooh, interesting”) except for yours and sadnotbad below who asked if she had any kind of mental health/counseling training. And these are the two comments that interest me most.

      1. Vistaloopy*

        And interestingly, my response to sadnotbad’s comment below (along similar lines to what I said above) did not make it through moderation. I think I’ve been respectful and certainly don’t mean to trash the idea of what Nell is doing, but I do see some red flags (based on many years as a mental health professional) and think it’s worthy of a discussion.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s not correct. I’m not here 24/7 and there are sometimes delays in releasing things from moderation (and in this case your comment and one of Nell’s both went to the spam folder rather than the moderation folder, meaning an extra delay in me seeing it) but your reply is there now.

      2. Bird Lady*

        Yup, I asked down below… it seems pretty cheeky to just give advice without credentials, but if people pay for it and she has them sign a waiver, then I guess it works?

        1. Liz in the Midwest*

          People give advice all the time. I can’t even post a funny picture of me on Facebook, making a face because I did a whiskey tasting and I think whiskey is gross, without getting a bun of comments about what whiskey I should actually try, or where I should try it, or how I should try cognac instead.

          People (generally) LOVE to give advice, solicited or not, subject matter expert or not. To solicit advice from someone, and to pay them for taking the time to talk things thru with you, is totally fine.

    5. HBJ*

      Yea, I see this, too. Additionally, this seems like something that would only work (especially for things like leaving your family to take off with your lover) if the decision maker has more or less the same morals/values/ethics. Certainly, I’ve read advice posts or listened to podcasts where the “expert” is saying X is the obvious choice, and I could not disagree more. I’ve even done it on here where I’ve felt that Alison’s biases about something she liked were showing through and preventing her from seeing what I thought the obvious actual issue was.

    6. Teagan*

      This is what was going through my head as well. I understand she has great intentions and her advice may be sound most of the time, but it still strikes me as ethically dubious. Surprised there aren’t more comments around this.

      1. Iris Eyes*

        Probably because we are all here commenting on an advice column where a stranger asks another stranger for advice, a solution, an answer to a problem. Its a pretty short step to decision coach but the decision coach gets more in depth information and can tailor their answer more directly to an individual and their circumstances.

        Also its a much older profession than therapist that humans have been seeking for millennia. A decision coach is essentially a guru, sage, wise woman, fortune teller who just uses logic and empathetic listening.

    7. MegPie*

      Agreed. The people I know that have a hard time making decisions are that way because of deeper issues. I used to help my ex husband make decisions like this because I’m good at it and he’s not. Turns out the reason he wanted someone else to make the decision was so there was someone else to blame. This job seems like capitalizing on people’s issues and potentially making them worse. =(

      1. Vinessa*

        Yeah, I’m surprised that the fact that she has repeat business is presented as a positive instead of a big red flag that these people need professional help. This situation seems primed for people turning the coach into a crutch.

        1. Bee*

          There’s certainly a possibility that some people are using her as a crutch, but there’s also, you know, that person I talked to five years ago when I was deciding between two job offers was SO helpful in clarifying what trade-offs really mattered to me, now that I’m trying to buy a house it might be great to do that again. It’s not like people only ever have to make one big decision about their lives!

    8. bamcheeks*

      You have *considerably* more power as a mental health provider, though. You considerably more authority through your profession and your credentials; you are the gatekeeper to other types of support and help; and in many situations you’ll have a long-term relationship with a client/patient/service-user and it’s very natural for them to seek your approval (and clinically required, under some models.) This isn’t that! The time-bound nature of the interaction means that the coach has much less power, and the client is much less invested in their response.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if you would get a few people trying to use this service who genuinely do need much deeper and more therapeutic help– but I would also not be surprised if those people aren’t pretty easy to weed out pretty early. You can tell when someone is trying to offload responsibility for a decision vs looking for a sounding board who will help them explore an issue in detail and identify a decision they are happy with.

    9. C.*

      I’m really glad someone said this, and I’m honestly surprised this opinion is so underrepresented in the comments here. (I also agree with a person above who stated that Nell’s extreme confidence is a little unnerving, especially considering that there is no specialization — this service covers relationships, careers, and presumably large purchases?)

  25. sadnotbad*

    This is fascinating! Nell, did you seek any kind of mental health/counseling training when you got into this field, anticipating the sort of role you’re taking on? I know you’re not presenting yourself as a counseler but I wonder if you’ve considered how those skills could contribute to what you do.

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      Great question! No–I’m very upfront about the fact that I am not in any way a mental health specialist or therapist. (Although I do sometimes gently suggest that my clients could benefit from therapy). I can see how those skills could be useful, but maybe more for long-term coaching relationships. I really find myself the most helpful when I can get in, make the decision, and get out.

    2. Vistaloopy*

      I’m a licensed mental health provider. What she’s doing is actually not something a good therapist would (or should) do. It’s okay to help someone make a decision on their own, but not to tell them what you think they should do on major life decisions like having a baby, etc.

  26. heidi*

    My dream job! I too help the people in my life make big decisions. Who knew people would pay you to do that? Any chance there is room in the world for 2 of us?

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      There is a never-ending stream of decisions to be made, so I think it’s very likely ;)

  27. Joanna*

    This is a fascinating job. I know so many indecisive people who could use this kind of help. Definitely taking note of your website Nell. Saying, “Hey, go check out this website” seems so much more polite than “Please shut up and never speak to me about this again.”

    Part of my job is risk management. I’m always surprised to discover that often the problem is that people don’t understand what their problem actually is. After 20-30 minutes of asking questions, we can normally get to the bottom of it, and the recovery plan, almost writes itself. It’s like they can’t see the big picture, and I have to pull them into it. I would imagine many of these same people could easily get wrapped around the axle trying to make a big decision.

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      LOL @ “Hey, go check out this website” seems so much more polite than “Please shut up and never speak to me about this again.”

      And yes–the problem someone calls me about is not always the problem that needs to be solved. One of my favorite things is discovering a third, better option for them, or speeding up a timeline (people put big goals on their calendar for, like, five years from now–and in so many cases they could be doing that thing NOW)

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I think this website is a boon to those of us who listen to people struggling to decide!

  28. Oranges*

    I LOVE these “people with cool jobs” interviews. I’be enjoyed every single one of them, this especially.

  29. Irish Teacher*

    Looking at the website, one thing that interests me is how it seems to be international. She mentions, for example, that she will take any currency. I was wondering if most of her business is US based (assuming that is where she is based) or if she gets clients from a variety of countries and if the latter is the case, do the decisions people from different countries are making differ and is it more difficult to advise people from different cultures? She mentioned about the risks of employment in the US. Making assessments on countries whose laws you might not be familiar with sounds more difficult. And of course, things like “should I have an arranged marriage?” could be hard for somebody not from such a culture to advise on.

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      Most of my clients are US based, but I get people from all over the world! And when it comes to things like cultural differences, the main thing is to figure out what’s best for the individual, and I’ve found that process is pretty much the same everywhere.

  30. double spicy*

    This was such a fascinating interview! I love the idea of a decision coach (and I definitely want to check out Nell’s book, too)!

  31. Librarian goals*

    I want to share that librarians are taught to do “reference interviews” to find out what patrons are really asking. I feel like these skills crossover to the Decision Maker job!

    I once had a patron who wanted the May 1968 edition of a popular magazine. I could have gone in circles looking for a digitized copy (which we did not own). But by asking questions, I learned he really wanted the birdhouse instructions from that magazine that he made with his grandfather. He wanted to make it with his grandson. I was able to find the birdhouse article online.

    So, for what it is worth, the “reference interview!”,user%20to%20appropriate%20information%20resources.

    1. Miki*

      As another librarian, I definitely thought this was a reference interview as well, but Nell takes it a bit further in that she makes the “patron” realize what it is they want and also helps them decide for A or B.

      Pretty fascinating stuff either way, I have the website bookmarked Nell!

  32. Restored*

    Thank you Nell and thank you Alison for this. I genuinely enjoyed reading through, I’m book marking for present and future reference.

  33. Not A Manager*

    Metrics! I’m just curious as to how many people actually act on her “decision.”

    In my experience, wafflers are going to waffle. Obsessive people are going to obsess. Frightened people are going to stay frightened. I can easily imagine a client expressing relief and certitude at the end of a session that they have finally committed to a course of action – but I’d like to know how many people actually do the thing.

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      This is a great question. Most people are surprised to learn that the majority of my clients aren’t people who are chronically indecisive. More often it’s people who are pretty good at decision-making in everyday life, but for whatever reason they’ve come up against a big choice that’s just stumping them. Those people absolutely take action once they decision gets made; in an inelegant metaphor it’s like unclogging a drain ;)

      And the chronically indecisive people might continue to debate after we get off the call, but I think they’re much more likely to move forward because I explain the whys and the how-tos!

      1. londonedit*

        I can see that. Chronically indecisive people are probably used to being indecisive, and are probably less likely to see it as a problem. Whereas if someone who’s usually great at making decisions suddenly comes up against something where they don’t know what to do, they’re probably more likely to think wow, this is unusual, maybe I need some help with this.

      2. Thisishalloween*

        Very interesting read! Do you do a routine followup email to your patrons to see if they moved forward? (it seems like the feedback you’ve gotten so far is patron-initiated). I would be really interested in what percentage of patrons are moving forward according to the outlined plan and which ones are moving forward in terms of accepting that it’s okay to want the things they want.

    2. Properlike*

      But does it matter? She’s not offering the service of “you will implement the decision I make for you.” She’s offering, “I will help you decide the decision you want to implement.” And then she helps them come up with an initial action plan.

      The implementation part sounds more like a life coach’s job.

      You wouldn’t hire a matchmaker as your wedding planner.

  34. M. from P.*

    I stopped reading halfway through to visit the website and files out the contact request form before everyone else beats me to it

  35. Pam Adams*

    I’m an academic advisor at the university level. Many times all the decisions someone can make are good- they just need to pick one!

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      This reminds me of the character of Esther in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, where she’s picturing herself in a fig tree and all the figs are labeled “happy marriage,” “magazine editor,” and so on. She’s starving because she can’t choose and choosing one means losing the rest.

      Too many people think choosing A over B means B is banished from your life forever, when with some tweaking of expectation there’s no reason B can’t be part of your future, just not the way you first pictured it.

  36. Reba*

    This is really interesting, but I think I’d still prefer Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal style method for making decisions. ;)

  37. qqq*

    What happens if all the options are bad, or the client discovers that what they want is something that’s not possible? Is the outcome of the session ever “the decision is that you need to go to therapy or talk to another kind of coach?”

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      Well, even if the options are all bad, you still need to make a choice. So I help them make the “least worst” choice. And I definitely recommend therapy to clients who I think could benefit from it!

  38. Foley*

    Oooh. This is utterly fascinating. I have to wonder if most clients realize that most decisions aren’t a one-way door that shuts and locks forever behind you (like in a video game). Rather most doors can be reopened – some more difficult than others, but that most decisions are FINAL.

  39. Generic+Name*

    I’m fascinated that there are a lot of people trying to decide between moving to New York or LA. I guess I assumed that that dilemma was something only movie characters do because as far as I can tell, those two cities couldn’t be any more different. I guess I can see if you’re in acting that either would be a reasonable choice. So interesting!

    1. Irish Teacher*

      I find it interesting because…in my experience, I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who was deciding “where will I move?” Generally, in my experience, people move because they have a specific reason to – got a job offer in a city, met somebody they want a relationship with and move to be with them, going to college – and generally, the decision makes itself – “I’d like to live in LA or New York, so I’ll apply to jobs in those cities and if I’m lucky enough to be offered any of them, I’ll move.” I guess if you have job offers in both or college offers in both, but even then the job or college itself would be a consideration.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Total speculation, but this might be at the pre-job search stage, and they want to know where to focus their applications. And I wonder how much of that is influenced by movies because people are deciding between New York and Los Angeles specifically. Wildly different in almost every aspect, but both have been very successful at being THE city movie characters move to (or live in). So I can imagine someone who lives in the US and feels like they need a big life change starts thinking “I want to move someplace better. Maybe LA, or NYC. Everyone who lives there seems happy and successful.”

      2. talos*

        Some large companies will offer you the same job, even on the same (distributed) team in several locations. I doubt that explains all of this but it could be some of it.

    2. Bee*

      Honestly, sometimes I think deciding between two very different options is more difficult, if you think they could both make you happy! When I was choosing between colleges I was pretty easily able to narrow my final choices down to two, but then I got stuck between “classic old-school New England campus experience” and “downtown NYC lifestyle” – they were both so appealing in such different ways that I couldn’t pick. (Ultimately I got both – went with the campus for college, then moved to NYC after!)

    3. Foley*

      Moved from NYC to LA. This is a decision tons of people I know have made, continue to make. In our situation, we sought relocation and they gave us options of where the firm had offices. I know big law and big accounting and consulting who have made this decision.

      LA is cheaper than NYC which is how we made the decision. The rest of the people I know who make this decision are in TV news or entertainment and have to decide which is ‘better.’ Someone I knew *finally* made the move to LA in 2019, then got staffed on a show out of NYC…

  40. Bird Lady*

    Wow, this is fascinating! I think I’m really good at what Nell does, and I’ve been thinking about becoming a therapist or coach. Nell, what kind of training have you had to do this work? Do you need a license?

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      You definitely don’t need a license; the entire coaching industry is completely unregulated. Anyone can set up a coaching school, or call themselves a coach. I’ve been doing this for almost ten years and I enjoy this one particular niche of coaching so much, but I don’t know enough about becoming a therapist to know if the decision-making skill is an essential one if you’re training as a therapist …although it’s certainly a great life skill!

  41. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

    I had one of my all time worst nightmares a few weeks before my wedding. When the officiant asked “Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?”, my notoriously indecisive fiancee responded “Actually? That’s a good question….” Cue long meandering pro-and-con non-analysis while the guests whispered and I stood there in shock for an hour. Suffice to say that my now husband is the sort of person who would use this service a lot!

    1. Generic Name*

      OMG, funny in retrospect because it sounds like your worst nightmare did not come true. I have a theory that indecisive people prefer to leave things undecided because they like keeping all their options open. Of course, not making a choice often IS making a choice (like you can only be on the fence about whether or not to have biological children for so long before nature decides “no” for you).

      1. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

        It didn’t! Although I admit to threatening to cut off his banana bread supply if he even thought about it. As for the indecisiveness, my husband has finally figured out the point you brought up about not making a choice being a choice. And now there’s the likelihood that if he dithers, I’ll just decide on something and he’ll be forced to try something out of his comfort zone.

  42. NotRealAnonforThis*

    This is absolutely fascinating, both on the face of the topic, and suddenly I’m able to verbalize why I’m having so much trouble with (any) decisions since about 2018. I’ve got some things I need to unpack and work through, but this interview really helped me pin down the “why” that I’ve not been able to.

    2018 and 2019 involved too many gigantic (medical) decisions where the “what’s the worst that could happen?” was a really, really, really bad answer (“my child could die, that’s what could happen”). Talk about decision paralysis: you go from that (eek) to “what do you want for dinner” and you literally.can.not. Yeah, the doctors made the obvious decisions…but you still have so many things to work through as a parent and it all goes back to “what’s the worst that could happen?”.

    Then we rolled into a pandemic of the unknown in real-time, and said child’s doctors even said “we just don’t know” while our school district pretended it didn’t exist starting with school year 2020. And all the decisions seemed wrong no matter who was making them, with my kid’s care team not having an answer because we literally had no research to refer to.

    Here it is 2022 and I no longer know how the everloving f*ck to make a simple decision because they were too long *that* important. But I can work through it now that kid is no longer considered anything but her own version of authentically (and not medically) weird (or critical). So cheers to this! Thank you!

  43. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    So interesting! I could never do your job because I would get too frustrated with clients. Folks that can’t make a decision vex me to no end because I am more of the “Whelp, lets try X and if it blows up we know X was a bad idea”/”No decision is worse than a bad decision” type of person

  44. Wouldja*

    This sounds fascinating! But looking at her website, it seems like the decision are all between two things. I wonder about when it’s more than that. For example, I’m trying to decide whether to move to a new state. And, y’know. There are 50 of them.

    1. hmmm*

      well, “should I move to another state?” is technically a yes/no question. but i am also curious about if/how she would help with the question “which state should i live in?”

    2. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      People definitely call me when they’re trying to decide among what seems like infinite options! I find I’m most helpful when the options are more limited, but I have helped people decide what’s important in a decision about moving and what isn’t, and we can get it down to fewer options pretty fast.

    3. FairweatherAdventures*

      I’m not Nell but my work (financial coaching) overlaps with decision coaching quite often, and I’d say there are two ways to make multi-decisions. Either do a bracketed playoff, where you decide between two options and then compare the winner to another one til you’ve got a champion, or you rule out the ones you know are definite no, and then look at a much smaller set. I’m fairly sure that the 50 states aren’t all so similar that you have absolutely no preferences.

  45. marvin*

    I feel like I need to have a decision coach on retainer. There is basically no decision in my life that wouldn’t have benefited from being made years earlier. The point about needing to try things resonated for me. After making a series of major decisions this year, I realized that there was no way I could have predicted how they would go without trying them.

  46. Michelle Smith*

    I’m not facing any big decisions right now, but I’ve got the site bookmarked for later. Thanks for this resource!

  47. Daniel*

    I’ve always admired the Quaker practice of a closeness committee for guiding discernment toward decision-making. A group of thoughtful, trusted people who listen carefully and ask questions – no advice or observations. A little different than this model but another way of recognizing that so many of us could benefit from some community when we make decisions.

  48. Margaret Snow*

    ” I figure out the right decision for them” I gotta be honest, I stopped reading right here.

    I would go to a coach so I can figure out the right decision for me with some unbiased 3rd party help organizing and going over my options. Not to have someone else make the decision.

    If this isn’t what the decision coach actually does, this was a poor choice of wording.

  49. Anonymosity*

    Thanks to both Alison and Nell for a very intriguing and thoughtful interview. The idea of trying out a few steps to see if something is viable appeals to me. I tend toward caution in trying new ventures or activities and often become mired in an all-or-nothing mindset. I can see where adding “Try it and see if it works” to my personal vernacular could be of particular value.

  50. Picket line or bread line*

    I would absolutely LOVE to hear a recording of one of your sessions Nell. There is something golden about hearing the kinds of questions you ask and how you structure the hour with people. Like listening to therapy, I think there is something we could all learn about making decisions. If you ever decided to do a podcast, please let us know!

    1. Nell (the Decision Coach)*

      This might be in the works!!! I’ll come back and post about it if it happens!

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