Intuition: What It Is, and Why You Have It

“Something’s not right about this situation…”

This has happened to you more times than you care to count: a gut feeling has you changing your mind at the last minute, a little voice whispers in your ear telling you what to do next.  It’s like magic…but it’s not.  It’s intuiton.

Intuition isn’t ESP.  It’s really your subconscious and your body perceiving signs and details that lead you to a particular conclusion, often without you realizing the process.  You may not know you’re picking up the details, but you are, and when you come to that magical conclusion it seems as though you pulled it out of nowhere.  Really, it’s just that you know more than you can describe.

People develop their sense of intuition with experience.  Nurses who “think something just isn’t right” and act on their feelings often save the lives of patients that seem to be okay but really aren’t.  Over 60% of CEOs surveyed by PR Weekly in 2006 admitted to going with “gut feelings” when making successful business decisions.  Intuition is very valuable to those who have developed it and heed it.  How can you develop yours, keep it honed sharp and “sell it” to someone who doesn’t want to invest in your instincts?

Validate your intuitive thought process – Like I mentioned earlier, your intuition is actually your subconscious recognizing patterns and signs and sending you a message.  If you’re feeling like your manager is leaning toward hiring the wrong candidate, for instance, stop and ask yourself why you feel that way.  What signs are you really seeing?  Do you feel like he’s not been truthful on his resume?  Does he have mannerisms that remind you of other candidates who turned out to be poor workers?  Think hard about what’s really tipping you off, and then pursue those details to see if you can uncover something more.

Back up your instinct with data – The best decisions always marry intuition with data and research.  If you have a strong feeling about something, do a little undercover work and see if your decision can be supported by concrete evidence.

Update your “rules of thumb” – We keep a lot of reference points in our head.  For instance, the average new car sells for about $28.000 nowadays.  Would you have come up with that figure on your own, or would you have guessed a little lower?  Don’t assume all the figures you have in your head are entirely up to date, because the launching pad for your instinctive conclusion might be off right from the start.

Pay heed to decision making biases – We talked earlier about all the traps you can fall into when making a decision, and intuition is not immune.  For example, if you’re going to do some research to back up your gut feeling, are you falling victim to the confirmation bias by looking for the data that will prove your theory and not paying attention to the data that could disprove it?  Be very careful of those biases lurking out there!

Balance your intuition against your credibility – We talked about credibility in an earlier post.  If you have credibility, it’s likely that people will stop and give your hunch some consideration.  If your credibility is a little on the weak side, then …

Learn to present your intuitive thoughts in a way that gives it a good foundation – If it’s not likely that you’re going to get people to stand up and take notice of your gut feeling, then you need to give it some additional weight.  Validate your thoughts with supporting data when you lay it out there for the world to see.  Or, if it’s not a subject that is data driven, then be prepared to explain the careful reasoning process that followed your gut feeling, so your audience can understand how you arrived at your conclusion.

Keep a journal in order to improve your intuitive skills – When you’re developing your intuition, keeping a journal can sometimes be helpful.  Record situations and your initial feelings about how things will turn out.  Then, at a later date, review your entries for accuracy.  Were you right more often than not?  Are there any commonalities between the times that you were right?  What are they?  This practice will help you learn where your intuitive talents really lie.

Intuition comes with experience, and it can be one of the Revolutionary Assistant’s most important tools.  Just like nurses’ instincts save patients lives, an assistant can avert disaster quickly if her intuitive skills are honed, because sometimes there’s just not enough time to gather data and ponder the issue.

Next post:  Tuesday, March 27

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