Use Your Gut to Choose Relationships

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It’s generally considered good business practice to make decisions based on data rather than on our instincts. We believe data holds the key to an objective and therefore superior answer, whereas our instincts introduce a subjective and therefore inferior perspective. However, we believe this only because we have not learned to use our instincts with accuracy. Among other things, they’re useful in choosing our teammates and partners.

More than a Gut Instinct

When I was a young manager, I remember working for a company where the Human Resources department made us all take a training course on interviewing job candidates. It was called ‘More than a Gut Instinct”, and the premise was that we shouldn’t trust our gut instinct but rather we should deal in facts alone. We were instructed to judge a candidate based on their answers to questions about how they handled situations and accomplished goals in the past.

I agree that historical success is an indicator of a person’s effectiveness, and it should be strongly considered during an interview. However, I also believe that honing our instincts to accurately perceive the emotional fit of a candidate is useful and valid.

The Science of Instinct

A large number of experiments using functional MRI have shown that certain brain regions are active when people experience an emotion and the same regions are active when they see another person experiencing the same emotion. It’s possible to use this fact to feel the emotions of another person.

When you “feel into” another person, you’re using a part of your brain not typically used in business. There are three levels of your brain and each perceives differently. The upper level, neocortex, deals with abstract-conceptual perception and rational meaning. In business today, we usually remain at this level. The lower level, reptile brain, perceives thru subtle, instinctive vibes. To feel into another person, project your awareness to the other person, envision moving down in your brain toward your instinctive senses, and notice the way your body feels.

Pay Attention to Your Body

The other person’s emotions can be perceived by comparing them to the way you feel your own.  Become aware of how your body feels when you’re confident or anxious or fearful. When the candidate is answering a question about their abilities, project your awareness to them and perceive how your body feels. Do you get a feeling of confidence? Or do they feel anxious and fearful? Do you feel the steady waves of a harmonious person or the adrenaline of someone operating from their ego? Along with the person’s words and body language, this technique can help you determine if the candidate is a match.

Check in with the person periodically during an interview process to see how their emotions progress. You may feel them settle down as they get over their initial nervousness, or you may feel a change when you ask about a particularly sensitive area of their past.

It’s true that you can read a lot of this in their physical body language, but many of us who are successful in business have become very adept at keeping our emotions under cover. Plus, this technique works when interviewing by phone when you can’t see the person, as long as you can feel a connection and project your awareness to them.

Keep in mind that even if a person has demonstrated success in the past, if they’re carrying a negative emotional state, their negativity will influence your environment. So be perceptive and make sure you get the right fit on all levels, including the emotional.

Can you see yourself using this technique in interviewing? How else do you determine the emotional fit of a candidate?


About the Author:

Jackie Barretta is a writer, speaker and consultant helping organizations strengthen agility and performance by shaping emotional energy. She is a thought leader bringing to light the new science of group emotional energy and connecting it to business performance. She has had a 28-year award winning career as a C-level Fortune 500 executive and Big Four consulting firm professional.
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  1. Elaine Correia  November 2, 2011

    We are all capable of receiving ‘vibe’ energy from others and everything around us. I agree that using our innate inner wisdom is a great aid in helping to choose people to do business with or teammates and partners.

    I am already very energy sensitive and easily pick up what others are feeling. This ability has caused me a great deal of confusion in the past, so I have had to train myself to keep it simple: a simple yes or no. like “Am I comfortable with this person?” “Is this person a good fit for what I have defined that I want?” “Are they being honest with me?”

    The people I find most challenging to ‘read’ are those that believe their stories so much that they come off as being authentic, but the facts prove what they say to be fiction.

  2. Kees Goedegebure  November 2, 2011

    Hi Jackie, like this article.
    I like to make a difference first in instinct and intuition. Instinct for me is connected with the primal motives, energies and feelings and intuition to the higher energies, the heart area and the wholeness.
    In interviewing candidates I have watched body language, feelings of impression and intuition. In my believe intuition gives insight of the connection from the candidate with the whole, or in this case the company. Can this candidate connect with the job and the work we’re offering?
    I noticed that the mind is the great illusionist in this. Often I saw opportunities when discussing the work and how they would solve certain situations. But in real often those opportunities didn’t work because of other factors. So, the mind with it’s narrow vision is not at all the objective but instead very subjective because of it’s lack of knowledge about life and the whole.
    I think in interviewing you can use all your abilities when you know the lacks they have. So, then it is possible to correct the signals or give them the real worth. Because not one person is the same as the other, a wide set of abilities will help to get a clear view on the capacities from the candidate for the job.
    The technique you described is one of such possibilities and therefore very useful. Maybe it can disturb your interviewing or your interpretation when you have to put much notice on what you feel. So, as co-interviewer you would have more time to check what you feel and get it clear.
    In relationships I think it works very different except maybe when you react on an ad and meet someone as a possible partner. Often you feel a connection and you can reach out to that connection. And there are so many ways. Most of my good friends are picked intuitively and it worked out very well.

  3. Gary Ravetto  November 3, 2011

    What a great posting, Jackie! I have made a living in large part by selling my instinctive abilities. Never thought about the process I go through. Hum?! Thanks to you, I’ve got some thinking to do! Will say this, both of my degrees are in Theatre. I use my training as a director and actor in every professional thing I do. I focus on the characters and their motivation and how I need to “inspire” them. I study the dynamic (plot) and sub-dynamics (sub-plots). Silly sounding when you say it. But the parallels have served me well. My father a few years ago made the comment that he spent money for me to get both a BA and an MA in a field I never worked in. I told him I use what I learned everyday, just not on a stage. Guess as corny as this sounds, I use them on the stage of life!! Now I made my stomach hurt! Let’s see how long it takes someone to post the obvious Shakespeare quote!

  4. Arthur Fink  November 3, 2011

    Thank goodness Jackie has been able to get past that horrible advice she was given years ago in the ‘More than a Gut Instinct” class, and has come forward with this insightful blog post.

    I agree with everything she’s written, but would add one thread — Questions. In any kind of interview situation, I notice what kinds of questions the other person asks, and how many represent an insightful and deep probe. What’s my “gut” doing here? Sensing whether the questions are an invitation to be real, and an expression of a genuine and compassionate interest, or just a formal social obligation.

    There’s one question that I’d almost always ask, and that I’ve found to be particularly useful — “Tell me about an interesting mistake that you made in your current job, and what you learned from it.” Some people clam up, afraid to break the facade of perfection (we don’t make mistakes). Others offer a weak statement, such as underestimating the cost of time required for the last project. And a few have an insightful story about some real learning. There were the people I wanted on my team — people who could tell the truth to themselves and to others, who could learn, who had enough self-confidence to be well aware of their shortcomings, and who didn’t want to hide behind some facade.

  5. Renee Houston  November 6, 2011

    Jackie, I think that as women, we have the benefit of using our senses all the time. We don’t compartmentalize our thinking as men do, we actually string a host of knowledge, instinct, intuition, senses all at the same time.

  6. Enrique Fiallo  November 6, 2011

    I like this. This is the theme that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Blink, making decisions with your “gut”. There is a requirement, though, that your “gut” be well tuned, sophisticated, and mature so that yo don’t choose the wrong partners and teammates.

  7. Jim Battin  November 6, 2011

    I sleep on it. By morning it is clear.

  8. Michele Bergh  November 7, 2011

    A quick “check in” works for me. I ask a yes or no style question about it and see what pops in immediately…usually before I even finish the question.

  9. Kaiisha Rosendahl  November 9, 2011

    I agree, thank you for posting that article Jackie. It’s so important to trust our intuition and emotional centre when it comes to assessing situations and people. We are ALWAYS right.

  10. Jason Webb  November 16, 2011

    I am big on science and reasoning. But, I cannot deny the reality of the fact that whenever I’ve not followed my gut on something, I’ve always paid a price.


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