If you are an NCIS fan, you know that Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, played by Mark Hamon, always trusts his instincts. But should you trust yours? And if so when?

For me, and I assume for many of us, the answer is sometimes. My instinct is an accumulation of life experiences, good and bad. It’s faster than data analysis in telling me about any given situation. I can rely on it for taking on speaking engagements, agreeing to a new project, or choosing to join a committee or board. But it can steer me in the wrong direction, especially when I’ve been influenced by incorrect information, such as the language and biases I was raised with.

How can you know when your “gut” is drawing you to the right choice? In the last part of her blog post, Efficient Decision—Making with EQ Skills in Business, Dr, Anna Rostomyan offers these five steps to guide you. She concludes by noting the importance of the additional information intuition and gut instincts lend to the decision-making process. These are her steps with my comments:

  • Delay the decision – Akin to counting to ten, a pause prevents you from going too fast and not seeing all aspects of the situation. It also keeps you from drawing on the implicit bias that has built up over the years. It helps you to notice if you’re responding out of learned emotion, the facts that have been presented, or a combination of both.
  • Recognize your emotions, and the emotions in those with whom you interact – We all have triggers that can set us off. Is your reaction based on one of yours? Have you accidentally set off someone else’s trigger? Can you stop and see why certain emotions have come up for you or the person you’re talking to? We sometimes use phrases where we don’t realize the potential for harm and need to stop and reflect if we don’t get the reaction we’re expecting. As an example, look up the history of the phrase “grandfathering in” to see where racial inequality has influenced our language.
  • Identify the emotional side of the decision – Identifying emotions allows us to take a step back from experiencing them. This is one of the key reasons for the first step of delaying the decision. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong reaction to information, news, or change, but it is important to not act on that first response and instead notice how we’re feeling.
  • Reappraise the feelings which are hindering your rational decision-making – Rostomyan says this will let you analyze whether the emotions are helping or interfering with the process and allow you to see the facts more clearly. In my blog last week, I talked about leaving a position after 22 years. As relevant as they were, I had to remove the emotional components (my dislike of the principal and my dismay at the approaching retirement of the supportive Superintendent) from the rational aspect of the situation. The facts were the principals track record of restricting the library program and his known aspirations to becoming Superintendent. Big decisions are usually connected to deeply held feelings, not always easy to identify. When you can separate your emotional reaction from the facts that led to that reaction you can see whether you have truth to back up your response and then make your decision accordingly. Taking the time to explore them will help you make the best choice.
  • Look for substitute or alternative decisions – Have a Plan B. If the decision is important, you need to know what you will do if your first solution doesn’t work. Here Rostomyan says to be careful of “FOBO” (fear of a better option). To avoid this, she advises… getting back to your gut.

Your gut or intuition can be a reliable guide, but despite Jethro Gibbs, it is wise to check in with your emotions and the facts surrounding your response to make certain your gut is leading you in the right direction.


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