An outdoor café, a September afternoon along the Maas, is an ideal venue for close conversation, but also for people-watching, guessing attachments and professions of passers-by. It’s a game I seldom win.
Still, I think about people more, and differently, than I once did.
And I take greater note of my intuitions about them.
“Intuition” is not well defined, but can be approximated as The capacity for direct, immediate knowledge before rational analysis, reaching a conclusion based on previous experiences and emotional inputs’ (Dane, 2007). It’s not the result of a rational process, but a realization that comes from the heart rather than the head, or the left brain rather than the right.
I had a spirited debate recently about whether the heart learns, thus whether intuition can be developed. No question that our rational nature is informed by facts and improves with practice. While the heart is often thought of as constant and true, I suspect that it, too, can change with experience. The ‘bad feeling’ that we get about some people or situations reflects earlier misfortune. Attractions should similarly connect to positive times of joy, comfort, or security.
David Brooks’ essay observes that Gratitude happens when kindness exceeds expectations, or when it is undeserved. Life may not surpass dreams, but it can nicely surpass expectations. This is a lovely thought: I have expectations of people, probably moreso of those who I know well or have close ties to. Paradoxically, I may also feel disappointed by them more often, while being delighted by the occasional stranger who goes out of their way to help.
The Sage writes that many human emotions involve judgments. We are angry because someone behaved badly, disappointed because we misjudged events. We would feel differently if we judged differently. Reciprocally, then, foreboding likely attaches to a nagging doubt, anger to a thwarted desire? We can help the way we feel, if the way we feel flows from a mistaken judgment that we can correct.
Once identified as a skill with management utility, the academic community produced guidelines for developing intuition as a skill, of course (Sadler-Smith, 2004):
1. Open up the closet. Trust your feelings; count on intuitive judgments; don’t suppress hunches.
2. Don’t mix up your I’s. Distinguish your instincts, your insights, and your intuitions.
3. Elicit good feedback. Seek feedback on your judgments and build confidence in gut feel.
4. Benchmark your intuitions. Get a feel for your batting average.
5. Use imagery. Visualize potential future scenarios that take your gut feelings into account.
6. Play devil’s advocate. Probe how robust gut feel is when challenged.
7. Capture and validate your intuitions. Log them before they are censored by rational analysis.
Maybe. For me, I (do try to) spend more time listening and watching than I used to, and to be skeptical of whether my beliefs about people are in line with their reality.
Especially when lessons can be learned in a café.