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Trust your gut to make good business and hiring decisions?

Elizabeth Bromstein|

A new study released this week suggests that your automatic associations may be more accurate than conscious thought when detecting truth from lies.

The study suggests that the physical cues we look for when trying to detect deception — averting eye contact, fidgeting – don’t actually tell us anything. But, on an unconscious level, we may know when we’re looking at a liar. And looking for these may actually hinder our detection abilities. Other research repeatedly shows that humans are only able to spot liars about 50 percent of the time, which is no better than chance.

The researchers had participants watch videos of “suspects” in a mock-crime interview, some of whom had stolen $100, but all of whom said they hadn’t.

Participants were only able to spot the liars 43 percent of the time, a dismal showing. But other tests showed that they were more likely to unconsciously associate deception-related words such as “untruthful,” dishonest,” and “deceitful” with the suspects who were actually lying. They were also more likely to associate truthful words such as “honest” or “valid” with the non-liars.

Brinke says, “These results provide a new lens through which to examine social perception, and suggest that – at least in terms of detection of lies – unconscious measures may provide additional insight into interpersonal accuracy.”

The takeaway from this? If you suspect deception in the workplace or in a candidate, even if it’s just a gut feeling, it might be worth a closer look.

But how do we know when to trust a gut feeling and when not to trust it?

I once hired someone based on my gut instinct, and it was a disaster. I should have known better. I had narrowed the pool down to three candidates and she was by far the least qualified and professional, but she kind of reminded me of me at her age – a little rough around the edges but full of ideas and energy – and I liked her spunk.

A few weeks after I hired her she showed up to work drunk at nine in the morning.

This is a perfect example of gut instinct trumping common sense, and being totally wrong.

Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and the author of Second Sight, says “Intuition is a key tool for hiring. You use your intuition to coordinate with more logical information. So, you have the information about the person and you want to listen to the little light bulb that goes off and tells you if there’s something off. They might appear great and look good on paper but something is niggling and telling you something’s off. Trust that. You factor it in.”

I notice after our talk that a lot of the available advice seems to be on when to trust a negative feeling, not necessarily a positive one.

David Myers, author of Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, says there are times when we should rely on intuition. Predicting job success from a casual interview is not one of them.

Among the times Myers says we should listen to our intuition are:

    - When we have experience-based expertise. That’s what enables expert physicians, mechanics, and chess players to have so many valid hunches.
    - When reading emotions in faces, especially those of friends and partners. Show us a microsecond of an angry or happy face and we’ll read it accurately
    - When judging how much we’re going to like something like art work, or food. Quick judgments have been found superior to analyzed judgment.

And the times we should not listen to our intuition include when we are

    – Buying a lottery ticket.
    - Picking stocks.
    - Predicting athletic performance from who seemingly has a “hot hand” or “hot bat.”
    - Predicting job success from a casual interview.
    - Discerning whether someone is lying.

Myers says, “Following our intuition can be perilous…Intuition works well in some areas, but needs restraints and checks in others. In realms from sports to business to risk assessment to spirituality, we now understand how perilous intuitions often go before a fall, and how we can therefore think smarter, even while listening to the creative whispers of our unseen mind.”

It’s also important to know what a gut feeling means and where it’s coming from. Do you dislike the candidate because she looks like your nasty sister in law? That’s not a good reason not to hire her.

What does this mean for hiring and business decisions? Probably that you should trust your gut but not just your gut.

Judith Orloff says, “There’s the linear part of the brain, then the intuitive part of the brain. You’re just coordinating information from all levels. You want to make the most of what you’ve got.”

If I’m honest about my assistant, I knew at the time that I should go with a more qualified candidate but I didn’t.

I had a gut feeling that my gut feeling was wrong. I should have listened to it.

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Category: Hiring Advice, Management,