4 Tips on Talking about Infotuition Work. …Infotuition?


Named by Inc. as one of the top 100 leadership speakers, Shelley Row, P.E., is an engineer and former government and association executive. Shelley’s leadership work focuses on developing insightful leaders who can see beyond the data.
After interviewing 75 leaders, it’s clear that they rely on intuition for making hard or unclear decisions. All leaders, as part of their jobs, must decide the best course to take when dealing with multiple options and unsure outcomes. There is rarely enough information or time available to know all the facts or find enough data. There is little debate that leaders use intuition to complement fact and cognitive processing. The integration of information and intuition or the intersection of business pragmatics and gut feel is, what I call, infotuition®. Infotuition, far from being problematic is a concept whose time has come.

There’s no debate about the “information” part of infotuition. But, “intuition” has less acceptance. The first problem we run into is that the interviews show that most leaders (particularly those in technical, legal, financial or other fact-based fields) don’t talk about or explain it as gut feel, even though they rely on it. “Intuition” has a sense of dishonor. It is viewed as hokey, emotional, flaky, and certainly not legitimate.  Leaders, especially women, fear jeopardizing their credibility and professionalism if they talk about intuition.

Here’s the other problem. When I went on to ask how each leader would best develop intuition within themselves and others, they would reply, “By talking about it openly during decision-making.” This creates a gap between talking and not talking about this essential skill. So the big question now is how do we bridge the gap?

In my leadership interviews, 27% of leaders used intuition, 23% used gut feel and 19% used instinct.

Here are four ways to talk about intuition in a work setting.

1. Discuss the items that are unclear. Part of the decision-making in leadership is making the implicit explicit. Intangible considerations can and should be raised. Leaders discuss context, perceptions, the tenor of conversations, and political winners and losers. You can ask: “Who cares about this issue?” “What are their perceptions?” “How will they feel about it?” Intuition incorporates these factors through in internal calculus that provides a feel for a decision.

2. Use different words. In my leadership interviews, 27% of leaders used intuition, 23% used gut feel and 19% used instinct.  Women more so than men referred to gut feel in order to avoid being associated with “women’s intuition.” Leaders use other ways to code an intuitive feel. They talk about sweaty palms, butterflies in their stomach, or they are hot under the collar or squirm in their chair.  These accepted phrases illustrate a felt sense that underlies intuition.

3. Name feelings. To label, a feeling somehow makes it safer in a workplace discussion. In my office, I frequently ended meetings by asking participants how they felt about the outcome and immediately made it a multiple-choice answer. It sounded like this. “How do you feel about the results of the meeting? Comfortable, uncomfortable, satisfied, worried or concerned?” It’s better to air those feelings in the room rather than in the hallway. Admittedly, it isn’t entirely the same as intuition, but it’s a technique that surfaces feelings in an acceptable way.

4. Just say it.  Honestly – let’s stop the pretense and acknowledge what we know, intuitively – and that science is beginning to show.  We – our brain, heart, guts, and body combined – are a powerful, complex sensing tool. Yes, we think, but we do so much more. One leader said to me, “My role is to make space at the table for the person who says, ‘This just doesn’t feel right.’” That is real, legitimate and powerful. It’s time to call it like it is – intuition.

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