You probably know someone who’s always a step ahead of the game. She can tell, somehow innately, when bad news is coming, or when to take the risk that no one else would touch.
These people are dialed into their “gut instincts,” and are never wrong–almost annoyingly so.
The International Association of Administrative Professionals and OfficeTeam surveyed 3,500 administrative professionals and 1,300 senior managers, and found that 88% make decisions based on gut feelings.
The ability to intuit future problems before they become serious can be an invaluable trait in the workplace. “Any manager will tell you that having an assistant who anticipates his or her needs and offers solutions without being asked is virtually indispensable,” says Robert Hosking, OfficeTeam executive director.
There are five types of intuition (you can find your type, here):
Analysts spend a lot of time researching and data-gathering before making a decision about a situation, and aren’t satisfied until every potential scenario is explored and played out. A snap judgement is always a poor judgement, to an “analyst.”
Observers gather clues, mostly visually, about the people and scenarios around them. If she passes a coworker in the hallway that won’t return their smile, the “observer” takes this subtlety to heart.
Questioners are more direct about their judgement-making. If they need to find the perfect venue for their company happy hour, they don’t rely on online reviews or appearances, but ask around for the group’s top pick. “Questioners” make real-life, evidence-based decisions, but neglects to pick up on unspoken cues.
Empathizers are quick to let colleagues and clients vent out their problems, and go with them emotionally to the source of the problem. Unfortunately, too much empathy skews their judgment when it’s time to make an unbiased call.
Adapters are the all-star intuitors, the Zoltar fortune teller of the office. They give the best advice, and you know you can go to them when things get hairy. But where they excel in gut-feelings, they struggle to relate with others who seem to gravitate toward poor choices.
Knowing your intuition-style breaks this mysterious sixth sense down into recognizable actions and real skills, rather than letting it run in the background.
There are three levels of intuition, according to William Duggan, author of Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement. They are basic, expert and strategic.
1. Look into your past.
If you’ve ever had someone tell you that “hindsight is 20/20,” and wanted to roll your eyes because it’s so cliche yet painfully true–you already had an inner voice nudging you that’s now screaming “I told you so!”–that’s your intuition talking. We all have moments we wish we could rewind time and do-over. Looking at these past experiences and pinpointing the red flags you saw (and ignored) makes them glaringly obvious for the future.
2. Ask questions.
Posing a complex decision as a simple right-or-wrong question is easier said than done, but it’s a good exercise for gauging gut feelings. From Freelancers Union:
Whenever I have a major decision to make or something important to say, I pause for just a few moments or up to 30 seconds to ask: “Is this right?”
Forleo suggests posing the tough question at hand to whatever inner or higher force you gravitate toward, taking the pressure off yourself for even a moment. This can call on your expert intuition–the gut reaction that comes from being very good at your trade.
3. Get out of your head.
Paying attention to the visceral reactions that follow question-asking belies your gut-feelings. How do you feel when you image going down one path, and then the other? Do you feel a sense of dread or relief? Imagine how it will play out, and how you feel about those projected results. Basic intuition shows up here: The physical and emotional feeling you get about something, but can’t put a finger on where it comes from.
Mulling over a scenario endlessly like a mental worry stone only wears out your decision-maker muscle. Getting in touch with your intuition requires moving the noisy thoughts out of the way, first. This makes use of strategic intuition, the kind of inspiration that arrives in the shower or just before falling asleep.