How to Put Your Intuition to Work in the Workplace

Posted 2013-01-03 Email Print this article Print

Instinct shapes many of our choices and actions at work. It involves using observational skills, analysis and past experiences to anticipate needs and questions.

By Robert Hosking

A gut feeling. A hunch. A sixth sense. In a business world that’s driven by data and deadlines, it might seem odd or even unprofessional to rely on intuition on the job.

However, whether we realize it or not, instinct shapes many of our choices and actions in the workplace. In fact, a recent survey conducted by OfficeTeam found that 88 percent of administrative professionals often make decisions based on gut instinct.

This isn’t about mind-reading and crystal ball-gazing. It’s about using your observational skills, analysis and past experiences to anticipate needs, challenges and questions. Intuition is something you can develop through intention and practice. Here are three ways to build intuitive skills at work, as well as strategies to help your team do the same:

1. Learn to anticipate.

Some people are naturally attuned to others. In the workplace, this attentiveness shows up as a sense that a colleague could use some help or an understanding that the boss is under pressure.

Other people have to work on their ability to anticipate the needs of those around them, but it’s a skill worth cultivating. When you anticipate questions, responses or outcomes, those become factors in successful decision making. When you’re attuned to the people and situations around you, you become a more supportive colleague and valuable employee.

That translates into career success: 94 percent of executives and 97 percent of administrators surveyed in the OfficeTeam poll agreed that the ability to anticipate colleagues’ needs is at least somewhat important to career growth.

How can professionals learn to intuitively engage with others? Here are some tips:

· Look to the past. How has your team juggled multiple projects in the past? How has your manager resolved a conflict? Look for patterns in the behavior of others and use that knowledge to anticipate their needs or responses.

· Understand work styles. Does your supervisor prefer a quick chat instead of a lengthy email? Does your boss need a lot or a little information before making a decision? Pay attention to the preferences of your manager and peers.

· Know the business. Some business activities are cyclical and happen at the same time each year. Use this predictability to anticipate time frames and deadlines.  

2. Read body language.

Facial expressions, posture and gestures are nonverbal signs that reveal a great deal about the subtext of any conversation. Look at the person you’re speaking with: Is the person smiling and leaning toward you? Or is his brow furrowed or posture distant?

Watching these nonverbal behaviors over time gives you clues about your colleagues and managers. Understanding body language allows you to anticipate their moods and needs and to act accordingly. Suppose you recognize that your team leader fidgets with his glasses when he’s stressed. That small movement provides valuable insight, even if the tone of voice is unflustered.

Here are some pointers for “reading” your manager and colleagues:

· Look for contextual clues. Is your manager crossing her arms because she’s disengaged, or because the air conditioner is too cold? Consider outside factors that may influence body language.

· Understand quirks. Does your colleague’s frown mean that he’s grouchy or that he’s concentrating? Don’t rely solely on “classic” cues. Pay attention to individual mannerisms as well.

· Be aware of changes. Did your relaxed teammate suddenly sit up straight in her chair? Watch for changes in tone, posture or behavior — these can signal that your colleague is enthusiastic or perhaps confused. So, probe her reaction by asking questions to gauge what she’s thinking.

3. Learn to listen to your gut.

Did you analyze all the data, consider all the options, chart every outcome … and become so overwhelmed that making the decision was agonizing? A study from the University College London found that people are more likely to perform well if they don’t overthink situations and simply trust their instincts.

Professionals who seek to develop stronger instincts should consider the following tips:

· Become an expert. Constantly gather information about subjects involved in your work: your company’s business goals, customers’ needs, workplace culture. Draw on that expertise as you move forward or make a choice.

· Explore options. Consider several possible courses of action, and then evaluate their risks and benefits. Quickly eliminate the bad choices before focusing on one or two good ones.

· Start small. Build confidence in your ability to know the answer (even if you can’t explain why) by making small day-to-day decisions on the fly. Yes, you’ll fail at times, but your instincts will gradually improve.

4. Develop intuition in your team.

If you’re a manager, you’ll want to create an environment in which employees trust their instincts, feel confident in their decision making, and anticipate the needs of their colleagues and customers. That kind of competence enables the team to work efficiently, handle complex projects and quickly respond to changing business needs.

Want to build your team’s intuitive skills? Here are some tips:

· Get to know them. Engage with employees (and encourage familiarity among them) so that you fully understand their strengths, preferences and work styles.

· Encourage feedback. Intuition isn’t mind reading: It’s about paying attention, acting and evaluating the outcome, and feedback is a crucial element in the cycle. As a manager, you should offer constructive commentary to your team and welcome the same from your staff.

· Let them in. Share your company’s business goals, major initiatives and the key projects you’re working on. Team members may provide valuable insight.

5. Put your intuition to work.

Imagine two colleagues: One seems to be always caught off-guard when a new project lands, is three steps behind the rest of the team and frets over decisions. The other anticipates when the workload will expand, is ready to step in to help and needs little supervision. Who would you rather be? Who would you rather have on your team?

You’re probably already using your intuitive skills at work, though you may not be aware of it. Visit to take a quiz to identify your own intuitive style and download a free resource guide that will help you hone your abilities.

You can advance your career by anticipating business needs, reading your colleagues’ body language—and listening to your own wise voice.

Robert Hosking is executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing service specializing in the temporary placement of skilled administrative and office support professionals. OfficeTeam also offers online job search services at


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Thanks for your registration, follow us on our social networks to keep up-to-date