How to use your intuition to make better decisions
Have a tough choice to make? Facts and figures can help but, says author Rick Snyder, don’t ignore your gut instinct.
Almost every business these days is so intent on collecting and analyzing data that the idea of making a decision based on a gut feeling is starting to look downright quaint. “People say, ‘Intuition isn’t reliable,’” notes Rick Snyder, CEO of coaching and training firm Invisible Edge, and author of a new book, Decisive Intuition. “But neither is logic alone.”
Ever found yourself in a situation that looked fine on the surface but just didn’t feel right, and later realized you should have trusted your gut? Then you know exactly what Snyder means. Maybe you went on a date with someone who seemed great but turned out to be creepy—or maybe you took a job that was perfect for you on paper, only to find it wasn't the right fit.
If so, you’re not alone. Using objective facts to make straightforward decisions often makes sense. But just as often, we choose to ignore intuitive judgments at our peril.
“People like thinking of the world as completely logical. It’s a comfort zone because it makes life predictable, or so we think,” Snyder observes. “But the trouble with that is, life can be unpredictable and messy. Without learning to tap into what our subconscious minds are telling us, we can’t arrive at the best possible decision.”
As more and more jobs are turned over to algorithms, intuition offers a career advantage: Robots haven’t got it (at least not yet). Along with empathy, imagination, and a sense of humor, intuition is one thing that artificial intelligence can’t match. The more sophisticated technology becomes, the more urgently employers are looking for candidates with high emotional intelligence (EQ)—that ineffable, deeply human blend of traits, including intuition, that goes far beyond number-crunching.
Monster recently spoke with Snyder about how to develop and use your intuition at work or in a job search.
Q. Intuitive decisions and purely data-driven ones are often viewed as opposites, but you say they’re not. Why?
A. The latest research shows that, far from being separate and distinct, the left and right sides of our brains—the analytical part and the more subjective, creative part—are constantly working together, exchanging information back and forth. One thing this means is that intuition, which is based on knowledge we may not even be consciously aware that we have, is a critical stream of data that needs to be included when we have a decision to make. In my coaching practice, I’ve seen leaders who have made brilliant moves by not relying on data alone.
Q. Your book describes five roadblocks to intuition, and how to overcome them. What’s the biggest one?
A. The main obstacle is our rational minds, including the sheer speed and volume of our thoughts. The incessant chatter in our heads from dawn to dusk pushes out our inner signals and cues, so they’re difficult to recognize. Another big one is doubt. By that I mean second-guessing our deeper knowledge, especially in a risky or unfamiliar situation. The destructive result is that we stop trusting ourselves and our own perceptions.
Q. One exercise in the book for turning off the mental chatter is simply to take a short walk. Why does this work?
A. It’s because just getting away from the thinking you’re doing, and slowing yourself down, gives you a different perspective. Leave your cell phone on your desk and just go outside and look around. Steve Jobs used to take walks around the Apple campus, usually barefoot, which really forces you to slow down! Most people have noticed that they have their best, most innovative ideas while in the shower or doing something else unrelated to work. This is the same principle.
Q. How does intuition fit into a job search?
A. Part of it has to do with learning to trust your intuition as a valid source of information. When they’re trying to get you to come work with them, interviewers naturally put the company’s very best foot forward, and that’s fine. But authenticity can be lacking.
So you need to pay attention to all the signals you’re getting from the moment you walk into the building, including people’s body language. What kind of vibe are you sensing from the place? Do the people you pass in the hallways look glum or bored, or rushed and stressed, or what? Take all that into account, not only whatever is in the formal job description. Listen to what your intuition is telling you about whether you’d want to go there every day.
Q. Are hiring managers using their own intuition to decide whether to offer you a job?
A. Often, they are! Two candidates can look similar, or even identical, on paper—same credentials, comparable experience, and so on—yet come across very differently in person. So they try to get an intuitive feel for the real you.
Google is famous for a technique called the elevator walk. After the formal interview, while the hiring manager walks you to the elevator, that five- or 10-minute casual conversation is where he or she makes an intuitive decision about hiring you. Same with anyone who wants to conduct the job interview over lunch. It’s not about checking out your table manners. It’s to get an intuitive idea of how well you’d fit into the culture.
Trust your gut
Sometimes making a job or career change really comes down to that gut feeling. But once you've decided to make a change, how do you act on that? Join Monster for free to get weekly updates on career advice and job listings. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume depending on the type of job you're looking for. Recruiters search Monster every day for new talent, so trust your gut and make yourself available to them.
Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics since 1996. She is a columnist for Fortune.com and the author of If My Career’s On the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?