Recently, a smart, savvy executive approached me for some advice. She’d started a new job and was struggling with one of her inherited employees. The employee had worked for the company for ages, and the only thing worse than his performance was his attitude.
I first asked what she’d already tried to solve the problem. Her response was an impressive laundry list: she’d clarified expectations, given feedback, created consequences and coached -- all to no avail. She felt like she was out of options.
I began, “Do you want my response in polite or direct form?” She smiled and confidently requested a direct approach. Incredulously, I pleaded, “Why on earth haven’t you fired him?!”
She told me she was worried about being seen as The Hatchet Lady. “But,” she continued solemnly, “things will be even worse if I keep him, won’t they?”
I smiled. “You knew what you needed to do before you approached me, didn’t you?” She nodded. “Well, heck, you don’t need my advice! Stop thinking about it and do it!” She agreed and promised to keep me apprised.
This story reminded me of a conversation I recently had with my friend, Chuck Blakeman. He was patiently listening me to whine about a seemingly unsolvable problem. With a glint in his eye, he playfully asked, “Tasha, what are you pretending not to know?” The question stopped me dead in my tracks and has since become a touchstone to skyrocket my self-awareness.
The human brain is an incredible creation. It’s wired to sift through information and make sound decisions based on instinct alone. In fact, when one study asked participants to use their gut to select the better of two options, they chose correctly 90 percent of the time!
Despite our brain’s magnificent wiring, we often lose sight of what’s right in front of us. One study showed that people are worse at detecting lies when they deliberate about them versus relying on their gut reactions. Other work has shown that when we over think decisions, their quality declines.
Most people will tell you that their gut rarely steers them wrong. But we often ignore our instincts when the answer is inconvenient. My friend Roger, who works in the grocery industry, recently told me that when a new hire isn’t going to work out, he knows in just a few days. “The problem,” he noted, “is that I don’t always like the answer!”
By no means am I perfect at this either. I've often found myself burying the truth when I should know better. Every June for the last six years, I've ridden Colorado's MS150 in honor of my wonderful stepdad Richard. It's a 150-mile bike ride to raise funds for research and treatment of multiple sclerosis. Leading up to last year’s ride, I barely trained at all. I didn’t have time! I rationalized, I’m too busy with work. Lo and behold, on second day of the ride, I choked a few miles from the finish line so badly that I had to flag down the dreaded SAG wagon.
Here's the thing: I was delusional enough to be surprised when, deep down, I knew this was exactly what was going to happen. I was just pretending not to know it. The good news is that I learned my lesson and actually trained for this year's ride, which went off without a hitch.
I try to get a bit smarter every year whenever possible.
The moral of this story: We live simpler, more successful lives when we stop ignoring what, deep down, we know to be true about ourselves and the world around us. Am I telling you not to more deeply reflect on your problems? No! What I am saying is that when you ignore the little voice in your head because you don’t like what it’s telling you, you’re in dangerous territory.