Can you Trust your Gut?

by Guy Ralfe on November 4, 2009

TrustI have found myself in situations where I have had to make the choice of whether or not to trust a clients word as authorization and support for a decision.

The dilemma –

Do I get the paper work all cleared up first or do you trust, execute and settle afterward?

Thankfully in the times that I have had to make these decisions trust has come through for me nearly always. From an orthodox project management perspective there is no such thing as trust, but in reality, especially towards the end of a project when all the pressure is piqued and your slack used up, you sometimes have to make some judgment calls based on trust or risk blowing the project delivery.

Obviously value plays a big part in these decisions and the resultant impact. For a project manager you are often doomed if you do or doomed if you don’t. If you don’t take the risk and give the project a chance of being completed then it can reflect poorly on you (right or wrong, it just does). However if you do take the risk and the risk goes wrong, as in still causing the project delay except now with increased cost and risk, you as the project manager are very exposed. The client will be disappointed and unsatisfied with the result that he can now claim no part of.

These examples are very black and white situations and reality is often not like that in that there are often many supporting circumstances that allow you to make the decision between acting methodically or with trust. Some of these are:

  • Previous Behavior – Most notably what has the clients past behavior been like. Are they willing to work with you or are they picking at every item on the invoice.
  • Mutual Respect – Does the client demonstrate support for your team and organization. Remember what is spoken is often what is thought…look out for sly remarks
  • Future Value – Do you see the client as a partner into the future. Is there opportunity for both parties to cooperate for each other’s benefit into the future.

Having thought through the above there is another BIG influence when making these decisions – that is our intuition or gut feeling.

In an interview of Jonah Lehrer, the author of How We Decide, he speaks about when to trust your intuition. It turns out that we should trust our guts for the more complex decisions because our emotions emerge from our unconscious mind and tend to reflect more information than our rational minds can handle. Decisions made on intuition, especially in domains in which we have a level of expertise, have shown to be very effective. A good example is of a radar operator in the Gulf war who trusted his gut and called an incoming blip on his screen as a missile, when its signal looked exactly the same as an American fighter jet and saved a battleship in the process.

Our rational mind on the other hand appears like a very orderly way of making decisions, however our brains have serious computational limitations when making rational decisions and once those limits are reached they quickly become overwhelmed. We also need to be aware that when we assess situations it is very easy to justify our decisions – our brains are very good at coming up with reasons. For this reason we need to always be very clear about what the decision is about and not overload with superfluous input.

So for those decisive decisions, remember that your clients are having to trust you too, always make assessments about the concerns that really matter for the situation and listen out to your gut in your areas of expertise.

Guy RalfeThis article was contributed by Guy Ralfe, co-founder of Active Garage and co-author of the upcoming book ProjectManagementTweets. You can follow Guy on Twitter at gralfe.
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