Robert Hosking shows how trusting your gut can be a valuable technique at work, not just in your personal life

Most of us don’t hesitate to draw on our intuition to make decisions in our personal lives. When something just feels right — or wrong — we typically pay heed to those feelings, even when we can’t quite put a finger on their source. But what about relying on these subtle powers of perception in the workplace? Isn’t going with your gut a risky proposition at the office?

On the contrary, it may actually be riskier to ignore intuition. A recent survey by OfficeTeam and the International Association of Administrative Professionals found that the vast majority (88 per cent) of support staff regularly count on their intuition to make decisions. And nearly all respondents (97 per cent) said they consider anticipating their manager’s needs important to the growth of their careers. That appears to be an accurate assessment, since 94 per cent of executives agreed!

An Indispensable Tool

Why are intuitive powers so critical for administrative professionals? Because excelling in the role requires you to understand others’ needs before they’re verbalised, interpret subtle cues before they become obvious and address potential problems before they develop. All of these challenges demand a sensitivity that can exceed rational, objective analysis.

But they also require common sense. Intuition works best in tandem with conventional information gathering and assessment of facts. The better you perfect this combination, the more you’ll find that sound decisions seem to arise naturally.

Far from a mystical power best left to psychics, intuition actually draws upon highly rational abilities such as observation, analysis and predictive reasoning. By learning to use intuition more skillfully, you can begin making smarter, faster decisions that increase your value to your employer.

Set Up Your Instincts for Success

There are many steps you can take to develop your intuition and turn it into a powerful workplace ally. Paradoxically, one of the best ways to embrace your instinctual side is to make sure it’s balanced by objective information gathering.

The more familiar you are with the facts and background of a situation, the more you’ll be able to trust your instincts. Become an expert on the subject at hand, whether that’s your company’s corporate culture or a new software product. You’ll be able to draw on this well of knowledge going forward.

Similarly, getting to know the work styles and preferences of the people you work with allows you to anticipate their needs. Your boss may like to make decisions quickly, while your teammates prefer to carefully analyse an issue. Observe other people’s behaviour and also ask them how they prefer to do things.

Proceed With Caution

Trusting your intuition can be difficult because it requires your analytical side to give up control, at least temporarily. If you’re not accustomed to listening to your gut, don’t start by making a sudden decision about a major project. Give yourself room to make mistakes by starting with low-stakes decisions. For example, should you forward an unknown caller to your boss’s extension or take a message? Yes, you may make the wrong choice on occasion, but, over time, you’ll refine your ability to act on your intuition.

Keep in mind that intuition is about reaching better conclusions, not jumping to them. Before making any decision, pause to think through the ramifications of the course you’re about to take. Are the risks involved acceptable? Will the option be supported by your boss? When in doubt, ask a trusted colleague’s opinion. Getting a different perspective on the problem can protect you from mistaking assumptions for insights.

When you reach the moment when you must take action, don’t overthink things. This can often cause people to freeze because they’re worried that their choice will be wrong. Commit to a direction and see it through. It’s simply not possible to predict every consequence or foresee every contingency, no matter how thorough your research or thought process is. At some point, you must make a decision and move forward with it.

Maximise Your Results

There’s no single best approach to using intuition at work. It’s a highly individual tool that depends heavily on your own strengths, personality and preferences. Here are five common intuition styles, along with advice for making the most of each:

  1. Analysts base their decisions on logical deduction and past experience. They’re skilled at recognising patterns that might not be obvious to others. If you’re an analyst, try to pay more attention to your initial reactions, even if they don’t immediately make sense to you. Augmenting your critical-thinking abilities with a well-honed intuitive sense can help you make even smarter decisions.
  1. Observers tend to rely on visual cues such as body language to anticipate what others want, without being told. That’s a valuable skill, especially when a quick decision is needed. But it works best when it’s tempered with more direct methods of evidence gathering, such as talking to co-workers to get more information.
  1. Questioners tend to cut to the chase, asking direct questions of the parties involved to figure out the best course of action. If that sounds like you, make sure the process of mentally composing your next question doesn’t prevent you from paying complete attention to what’s going on now.

Hone your intuitive capabilities by focusing on nonverbal signals such as facial expressions, body language and inflection. Paying attention to how people respond, not just to what they say, can help you fill in the gaps when you don’t have much information to go on.

  1. Empathisers have a knack for identifying with others’ problems as a step toward helping them find solutions. If you’re an empathiser, you may find that people tend to confide in you, sharing information and feelings they might otherwise keep to themselves. That makes it especially important not to base your decisions solely on emotions. Get into the habit of asking yourself how well your gut feelings about a person or situation match with a more objective, factual assessment.
  1. Adapters are capable of switching from one intuition strategy to another depending on the challenge at hand. A blend of instinctual and analytical skills often makes an adapter the go-to source for an accurate assessment of a situation.

If that sounds like you, be careful not to assume that others can read your mind just because you’re good at anticipating the needs of others. Your boss and colleagues may not pick up on the same signals you do. Be sure to communicate frequently and directly.

Not sure which intuition type best describes you? Take a short quiz at to find out. While you’re there, download our free research guide, Business Sense: Putting Your Intuition to Work, for more ideas about honing your instincts, interpreting body language and anticipating your boss’s needs. The guide also includes examples of administrative professionals who have successfully used intuition to advance their careers.

Robert Hosking is executive director of the administrative and customer support practice at Robert Half, where he leads operations for nearly 300 practice locations worldwide. With close to 30 years of experience in the staffing industry, he has extensive ... (Read More)

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