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6 situations where it makes sense to listen to feelings of doubt at work

There’s a time and a place for listening to ‘flickers of doubt,’ says Adam Grant.

6 situations where it makes sense to listen to feelings of doubt at work
[Photo: Olya Kobruseva/Unsplash]

I recently had the pleasure of listening to Adam Grant speak at the American Express Business Class Live conference. In a wide-ranging Q & A, he was full of his usual wisdom, but the big idea that captured my interest was his notion that “flickers of doubt” deserve our attention.

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Grant explained that we may try to hush this negative inner voice and bury what it’s trying to tell us. But the author of Think Again begs to differ with those who would dismiss this. Grant believes there is wisdom in that inner voice. These “flickers of doubt” can play a positive and creative role in our business lives. They can lead us to work harder and smarter and find the best solutions.

After giving this some thought, I’ve come up with six workplace situations when a “flicker of doubt” can be an asset to you:

1. JOB INTERVIEW

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Job interviews can be scary. Your inner voice may be saying you’ll blow it or that you don’t know what you’re doing. So what should you do?

The best response to this preinterview anxiety is to accept that you’re scared and to do something about it. Write out what you want to say, do your research on the company, and think of every question you might be asked, composing answers to each. Have a few stories in your back pocket, too.

In short, rather than hushing up your self-doubts, acknowledge them and respond by putting more time and effort into preparing, so you can go into your interview feeling more confident.

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2. DECISION-MAKING

Another situation in which it’s good to listen to your flicker of doubt is when you have to make a big decision. If you’re a boss, you may be wrestling with whether to have your people come into the office, work from home, or take a hybrid approach.

You may want to sound smart, so you ignore flickers of doubt about whether you have the answer. Grant advises accepting that you may not have all the answers. Instead, ask your team members what they want—do they prefer in person, remote, or hybrid work? See what works best for them.

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Listen to your inner voice, and you will have the humility to ask others for advice. Those flickers of doubt will lead you to a better, more collaborative solution.

3. LEADING A HIGH-PROFILE PROJECT

Suppose you’ve been asked to lead a big project. You may have a flicker of doubt about whether you have what it takes to succeed with this initiative.

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Take your cues from this inner voice. Don’t pretend to be omniscient. Try out different scenarios. Get input from other people about how to tackle the project. As Grant says: “The key is to go to people you are curious to learn from.” Say, “Could you help me figure this out?”

Don’t feel you have to conclude everything by yourself. Overconfidence can be a killer.

4. SPEAKING UP IN A MEETING

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Every day you have opportunities to speak up in meetings. But we often think we have to sound perfect. So, even if the discussion moves away from our position, or others question our thinking, we may cling to a rigid script.

But Grant says it’s healthy to have a flicker of doubt about your own thinking. We should “not let our ideas be our identity,” he says. Look at your contribution as being “good enough,” and encourage others to share their ideas about what you have said.

That flicker of doubt can be a prompt for making the outcome better for everyone.

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5. BUILDING YOUR CAREER

Flickers of doubt can help you build your career. They will keep you from being overly confident, ego-driven, or blindsided by something you ignored.

That inner voice will lead you to do your due diligence on every company you consider working for, or every job you consider taking. It will keep you from rushing into a job or pivoting into an area that ultimately proves a poor fit. How many of us at some point in our careers have said to ourselves, I’m just not sure I want to move forward with this? If we ignore that flicker of doubt, we may well regret it.

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6. LAUNCHING A BUSINESS

Finally, that nagging inner voice that says, Are you sure you’ve got a successful business idea? deserves our ear.

I started a business after far-ranging interviews with potential clients. I thought of all the what-ifs: What if I couldn’t sell my product to executives? What if I had the wrong product? What if they wouldn’t pay for the service? Humbled by these questions, I talked to everybody I could. I held focus groups and met individually with executives. I met with firms that could potentially be my competition. I did this for three years. My flickers of doubt led me to do this intensive research.

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That was my salvation. The company was launched and prospered because I had listened to that nagging inner voice. The company is now 35 years old and still prospering.

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