October 7, 2013
When to trust your gut when making decisions
Employees who make good decisions are a crucial aspect of success for almost every company. Decision-making can also affect career development, in good ways as well as bad. Do you know when you should trust your gut when making a decision?
According to a 2010 article by Andrew Campbell and Jo Whitehead, published by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, "Our gut intuition accesses our accumulated experiences in a synthesized way, so that we can form judgments and take action without any logical, conscious consideration."
This can be helpful, because it speeds up the ability to act. But how can you be sure your gut isn't giving you the wrong information? Campbell and Whitehead provide four tests to help protect decision-making from unconscious bias:
The familiarity test. Think through your experiences and search for appropriate memories where you've experienced similar situations. Use this test to examine the key uncertainties in the current situation and determine whether you have enough comparable experiences to be able to make sound judgments.
The feedback test. Analyze the feedback you've received from past situations. Were your previous decisions perceived to be the right ones by others? Why or why not? If they weren't perceived as good decisions, what was the feedback you were given?
The measured-emotions test. Traumatic experiences can make people wary of similar situations and create bias in judgment. For example, knowing that dealing with workplace bullies can be difficult is different than having lived through a stressful experience with a bully. The first will help you carefully think through how to approach a bully; the second could make you wary of all bullies and cause you to avoid dealing with difficult personnel situations.
The independence test. This is about making sure inappropriate personal interests or attachments aren't influencing you. That's why financial auditors, for example, are not allowed to audit companies in which they own stock; their personal investment in that company could bias their audit. It's also why most companies have policies against spouses or relatives working directly for each other; there's increased potential for nepotism.
If a situation fails even one of the four tests, rethink your decision-making process to improve the chances of a positive outcome.
Campbell and Whitehead recommend three actions to reduce the potential of a bad decision:
1. Find someone, such as a boss, who can weigh in on the decision.
2. Seek out additional data or experiences.
3. Ask someone to play "devil's advocate" and challenge the decision to create more in-depth dialog.
"We should never ignore our gut," state Campbell and Whitehead. "But we should know when to rely on it and when to safeguard against it."
What steps do you take to make sure your gut isn't leading you to biased decisions? Share your thoughts in the "Comments" section.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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