Where Instincts Lie #1
Stop trusting your instincts. Some of them are rubbish.
The Perspective of Ms Holly Mitchell
Manager (Acting), Aged 34
Flat 6 / Paradisum Flats – A block of somewhat renovated 1940’s flats; somewhere in Sydney
You awaken. The cat is sitting on the bed regarding you genially. The morning is clear, sunny, 23 degree’s. Autumnal. Your flat is as neat as a pin, the result of yesterday’s successful real estate inspection. Your partner, uncharacteristically chirpy, bought you a cup of tea with soy. Accepting the cup, you recall Elise from the real estate saying what a lovely man he was, how lucky you are. Its true you think, he is lovely and with the humidity behind you, your hair is looking lovely again as well. Things are looking up. As you leave the flat, you note your lovely man partner has put the recycle bin out unasked. Mrs Hume from flat 10 is tersely rearranging all the bins centimetre by centimetre. All except yours. The look of the bin sitting perfectly aligned on the verge had filled you with joy.
Your bus pulled into the stop the exact moment you arrived and your favourite seat was loyally waiting for you. You swept into the waiting lift like royalty and Madeleine, from the 11th floor, who habitually speaks loudly to you while staring at your forehead was nowhere in sight. Everything is going your way.
At morning tea, though not a gambler, you buy a scratchy and score an instant $50. Such is your confidence in being in flow with the universe, you give the $50 to the homeless man and his adorable border collie. You’re unstoppable. The stars are aligned. The universe has got your back.
You are actually looking forward to conducting the interviews for a new team member. You just know the perfect candidate is going to show up. You can feel it in your bones, and like magic, there she is. The first candidate . You’d known it instinctively as soon as she’d walked in the door. She was smart. Smarter in fact than her CV suggested, and she’d clearly done her homework on you. She was responsive, considered in her answers, and funny.
She’s your girl and she’s going to be the perfect team member.
A month later you’re tearing your hair out. Literally. You’ve had to start telling people you have alopecia. She’s a nightmare. She’s unreliable, aggressive, defensive and petty. Not to mention lazy, divisive and belligerent.
She’s eaten your lunch from the mini fridge. Twice. She flatly denied it while wiping the tell tale haloumi crumbs off her mouth. She could stare down Putin if required.
Your star performer Jay is threatening to quit, and your previously harmonious floor has splintered into multiple warring factions. She either inspires great loyalty or commited loathing. You don’t know why you didn’t notice her orange spray tan in the interview. She’s like a 26 year old Donald Trump.
Maybe like him she will rise to great heights. Take your job, then end up running the entire organisation on the back of her schismatic personality, lack of expertise in any area, and breathtaking self belief.
You know you should be performance managing her out but frankly she terrifies you, and you worry her followers may revolt.
You hide at your desk pulling strands of hair out one at a time, reminiscing about the morning before you’d met her, when the world was rosy, you still had a partner and a full head of fabulous hair, and your team were heading for the 2016 Group Achievement Award .
What went wrong ?
HOLLY AND HER CONFIRMATION BIAS
Holly’s marvellous gut instinct. Thats what went wrong.
Her buggy brain gave her a dud steer. Her highly suggestible unconscious, thought the candidate looked a lot like her hilarious cousin she went to Corfu with at 20 ,and without her being aware of it, gave her a nudge in the candidates direction.
Our judgements are not cold and logical. They are biased by our moods. Holly’s assessment of the candidates suitability was also influenced by her optimistic mood. Magical thinking which is an illogical thought pattern where we link unrelated events and give them meaning, led her to believe that the positive events of the morning meant the perfect candidate would appear.
Her optimistic mood also led her to overlook the fact that the candidate was better in person than on her resume, was incredibly charming, made her feel almost special and had a spray tan. A possible indication that the girl was Narcissistic. (just joking about the spray tan)
Confirmation Bias means we only notice and remember events which confirm what we are already thinking or already believe. Confirmation Bias led Holly to only notice the aspects of the girls behaviour that confirmed her bias that this candidate was the one. Unless you’re aware of it, Confirmation Bias can lead to very unhelpful thinking and flawed decision making.
She also fell victim to the Primacy Effect, which meant she unconsciously favoured the first candidate. The Primacy Effect and the Latency Effect, are Cognitive Bias’s whereby if we are presented with a list of words and asked to recall them later, we will recall the words at the beginning of the list, Primacy Effect, or at the end of the list the Latency Effect with greater accuracy and speed than those in the middle. The same can apply with a schedule of candidates. Unless the interviewer is aware of the bias, being in the middle of an interview schedule might put you at a disadvantage.
Yes ladies, its sad but true, that sacrosanct female bastion of sensitivity is sometimes not to be trusted.
But my gut, I hear you say is my special friend. It has brain cells in it apparently and often gives me secret messages about bad people that I follow, and it’s probably saved me from death a number of times.
I’m a women, our gut instincts are legendary.
Yes its true, in some ways and in some contexts our guts are amazingly accurate. Especially in the creative, problem solving realm our unconscious intuitive responses are king. Those moments when you’re ruminating on a issue, you divert your attention to something else and your unconscious spits the answer out when you least expect it. Brilliant. Also often in a context where we’re highly experienced, we can cut through layers of analytical thunking and come to a correct intuitive conclusion rapidly. In these moments your intuition is crucial. . But that doesn’t mean it’s to be trusted across the board.
I’m sorry girls but the accuracy of those lady gut responses have been heavily mythologised.
You can have a hunch about something and you may well be right, but this instinctive response needs the analytical process to step in and test the premise. You need to crank up those critical thinking skills and look at the situation with clarity.
Reason being, is that going with your instincts is often just a really good excuse of leaning into your biases. We are not rational beings, no matter how much we’d like to think we are. Intuitions and feelings are problematic because we have a strong inclination to lend credibility to whatever we are currently thinking or feeling. From an evolutionary perspective we started off with our limbic system in charge. We were all about fight or flight. Our frontal lobes which are involved in judgement, assessment and planning, hadn’t been created yet. This is the way our brain hierarchy still operates, limbic system first. frontal lobes later. Good sometimes. Certainly not always.
There’s a lot of focus on women at the moment. How many of us are in leadership positions. How many of us are sitting on boards. How many of us sit in our parliament and what the hell are we going to do about the gender pay gap.
So be glad you have some instincts in your corner, but like any fighter, sometimes they throw a deadly accurate punch and sometimes they’re wide of the mark.
Be judicious with them, use them well, and they can still be your very special friend.