Should gut instinct at work be forbidden or praised?

In over 25 years of being in HR, I’ve learnt at every decision making step you need to consider the facts, logic, rules and the process that have been laid out to find what is appropriate, fair and professional for each of us.  At the same time, I have been continually reminded how the use of ‘gut instinct’, or paying attention to our feelings, is not only unlikely to bring about the required result but is, in fact, wrong, unprofessional and fraught with the potential to unwittingly discriminate.

I was also horrified recently to be reminded that in a university level assignment, the tutor was not interested in the student opinions, simply their ability to cite the opinions of certain favoured individuals who have been published. Are we seriously training our young people up to have no opinions? Perhaps you gave birth to, or parented, a couple of parrots, but I didn’t think I had.

So gut instinct has been trained out of us and in turn we continue to train it out of others, advising of the pitfalls in the modern world of using our instincts – unfairness, discrimination, legal repercussions, unconscious bias, outcomes that lack credibility etc. But this is so fundamentally wrong.

Most of us are fortunate to be born with the gift of sight. It would be a mad, mad world if we told each other we had to shut our eyes and not use it. In the same way, most of us are born with the gift of gut instinct. An equally valuable gift. So why can’t we use it and be proud to use it? Aside from risk aversion cultures in organisations, surely only those with a closed or limited mind fear gut instinct?

Last night, I awoke with a sense that something was wrong. I knew instantly that someone had a problem and who that person was. I emailed them immediately even though it was the middle of the night and we were thousands of miles apart. I just wanted to say ‘I know you’ve had a tough week, but all is okay’.

They replied next morning to say that my timing had been spot on and thank you.

How many years have you felt forced or goaded at work into shrugging off feelings of instinct? Of somehow just knowing something without any logical way of knowing such things? But how powerful would it be if enough of us turned our backs on those who would do away with the value of our gut instincts in order to achieve a perceived level of safety or reliability?

When speaking to undergrads each year on the topic of leadership, I tell them that in my business, whilst intelligence is required due to the complexity of employment law that we deal with, common sense is a massively underrated skill and one that is as valued by me as intelligence. But perhaps going forward I ought to add a third skill into the mix, the skill of learning to listen to your feelings – your gut – and your confidence to take actions based on that – however un-politically correct that may be!

Your thoughts, opinions and ideas all gratefully received as always.

1 Comment

  1. Alison McMullen 8 November, 2015

    During my years in HR I have worked with several senior HR professionals who have trusted their gut instinct. In today’s world where every decision has to be accompanies by hard facts and evidence it’s a skill we are going to lose if we don’t do more to encourage it.

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