Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Grinders hum in the background and the rich aroma of coffee surrounds us. In a sea of corporate blacks and greys reflecting against marble floors and opulent finishing’s, I sit across from one of the most inspirational women I know. Breaking the corporate stereotype, wearing bright and feminine colours, with not a hair out of place, she radiates joy, positivity and elegance. From a career perspective, this woman is immensely talented and skilled, having navigated her way through challenging and highly political terrain with apparent ease and grace. She has studied, worked hard and made her way to the c-suite as a highly respected leader and mentor… but that is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to this, hers is a story of immigration from a war-torn country, of courage, of love, of laughter and of hope. Hers is a story of compassion, wisdom and motherhood. The absolute best part of my career so far has been that this is just one of many amazing women I have the privilege of knowing and spending time with because of the work I do and a lot of my time is spent hearing their stories and learning from their extraordinary journeys.
When we catch up for a coffee, I am never disappointed, and I like to think we are both richer for these visits. We don’t talk about business; we talk about life and how business enriches this for us both. I was humbled that my recent blog “It’s not me… it’s you” had struck a chord with her, but she challenged me to take my ideas a step further. “You know what I don’t understand Liz?” she said, looking right into my eyes. “Why don’t we just listen to our gut? Often, we know the right answer or the right direction to take, but we ignore our instincts.” After 25 years in the business of “People” I don’t think a truer work was ever spoken to me over coffee!
For many people, the notion of “Women’s Intuition” can seem antiquated and almost a little condescending at first blush; however, I would list this as one of my superpowers. Evidence suggests that women (as a group) are more adept at reading non-verbal communication - particularly facial expressions. Further, women are thought to be more skilled at expressing emotions non-verbally. It is thought this skill is what we refer to as intuition. Male counterparts on the other hand, seem to be better at controlling and hiding emotions behind a “poker face”. From the stance of diversity, this combination of high-level non-verbal interpretation combined with the ability to control and hide emotions in the right situations has the potential to be a force to be reckoned with if harnessed correctly.
Although the celebration of diversity is now front of mind for most of us, sadly we know all too well that historically this has not been the case. It has been suggested however that in addition to evolutionary influences, it is from the imbalance of gender power, that women have learned to hone these superpowers. Women who had less social and economic power for example, learned to observe those in power (men and powerful women) with a much more intense level of scrutiny, and over time became highly attuned to what these people were saying without words. While all of this acknowledges the existence of intuition, it still doesn’t answer why we don’t listen to it.
There are three key areas I have identified which make me ignore my intuition, and guaranteed, if I fall victim to these, I end up regretting it.
1. I don’t have enough proof
We live in a world of evidence-based practice and risk management. Every decision has to be validated with facts, figures and research. We need to prove, classify and pigeonhole. In a time of ever-increasing pace and disruption it is not always possible to deep dive with as much research and proof as we would like. More often we need to be quick and nimble with our decision making which leads us to the edge of a precipice. Do I go with the evidence I have before me knowing it is unsubstantial or do I take a risk and follow my intuition even though I can’t articulate or prove why this is the best decision? Is there a way to do both?
2. The need to please
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to please others and have a positive impact, however when you have a desire to “people please” it’s important to reflect on your intentions. When we ignore our intuition in order to please others, does it stem from a reluctance to rock the boat or a fear of rejection or criticism?
3. The blame game
Through her extensive research about blame and shame, Dr Brene Brown knows that many of us blame and shame ourselves and or others, as a default response when we feel even slightly out of control. Brene says “when something bad happens the first thing we want to know is whose fault is it?” Following your intuition in the face of the potential of blame and shame requires a high level of courage and vulnerability.
This International Women’s Day, thank you to all the wonderful women who continue inspire me and challenge my thinking. Let’s pay homage to women and men everywhere who have the courage, vulnerability and determination to listen to their intuition and take risks to act on it when it counts. For me personally, a conversation over coffee has reminded me to pay heed to my intuition more regularly and to give it equal weight to facts, figures and evidence. I have also been reminded that every encounter; however small, is an opportunity for immense reflection and personal growth.