Published June 20, 2018

Do you trust your gut instinct when you make decisions? Or do you rely on more thorough analysis? A combination of the two is probably the best approach, but according to new research, you then need to know how to combine the two in the best way…

If we first briefly look at the difference between analysis and gut feeling, we could point to analysis involving gathering facts from the outside to help us make our decision. It could be about the cost of something, how much time something usually takes, what the outcome is likely to be, or how others have succeeded in doing something similar, etc.

When it comes to gut feeling, it is more about how you feel about the decisions you are about to make. Your gut feeling comes from inside of you, is based on your previous experiences and is, even though perhaps in a different way, a form of gathering of facts too.

Imagine a situation at work where you are about to make an important decision: YES or NO. It could be about a large project, a recruitment, an investment, a reorganisation, training the staff or something else of considerable importance to you and your organisation.

Most of the information you have available speaks for you saying yes. All of your facts and calculations tell you it is a good idea and those you have asked for advice have no objections. Still, you are walking around with an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach that something is just not right…

What do you do then? According to Gary Klein, psychologist and award-winning author of several books on how people make decisions, it is not about analysis nor gut instinct, but rather a case of both. However, it is very important that you do take them in the right order, depending on the situation and your own experience.

In Psychology Today, Klein has listed a few questions you need to ask yourself to understand when it is time to prioritise your gut feeling and when enlisting your analytical thinking is preferable:

•  What experience/expertise do you have in the field? If you have no or little experience, forget your gut instinct! Find out as much as you can and when you have completed your analysis, then you can check with your feelings what they have to say. Just let your gut feeling be your last resort.

• How much time have you got? If it is something urgent, you have no choice but to use your gut feeling. Often a decision, any decision, is better than no decision at all.

• Will the decision be definitive or can it be changed later? In the case of definitive decisions, you need to block your gut feeling and instead rather approach the situation as if you were cutting down a tree: once you have started chopping, there is no return. It would be difficult for you to change your mind once you are half-way through the tree trunk, would it not? But if it concerns a decision which you feel you may be able to adjust along the way if things do not turn out the way you had planned, you can let your gut feeling loose.

• What type of person are you? If you are open, find it easy to admit your own mistakes and see no loss of prestige in being wrong sometimes, then you can follow your gut feeling. If you on the other hand think that once a decision is made, it is written in stone, then perhaps you should tone down your gut feeling and go for a more elaborate analysis.

• Are things stable or are there new things happening all the time? In times of uncertainty, when you are not quite sure which way things are going, an analysis is not worth much. There is real risk that once you have finished your meticulous calculations, the circumstances may have changed dramatically. Perhaps your gut feeling is not going to be able to give you your desired results, but it will at least save you some time.

• How clear are your goals? If your goals are fuzzy, you might as well go with the flow and adapt as the situation changes and watch and learn. Then your gut instinct will be your best friend. The clearer your goals are, the easier it is for you to work out the next step. 

• Are others involved in your decision? If so, they will most likely want to know your line of thinking and you need to be able to explain how you reached your decisions. “It felt right” will not suffice, instead you need to be able to paint a clear picture of your reasoning behind the decision.

Making a decision can be difficult and perhaps these tips can help a little. Although really there is only one problem in decision making: you will never know what might have happened if you had made a different decision!

Which is lucky, according to both our gut feeling and our analysis…

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