Trust your own instincts, not mine

A few weeks ago I wrote about 3 lessons I’ve learnt since career changing. Since then, I’ve been thinking about what other big lessons I’ve learnt – not just since career changing – but throughout my 10 years (has it really been that long?!) since leaving university.

A big one for me is about trusting my own instincts (I have a habit of being indecisive, so this is still something I struggle with sometimes!) The longer I coach, the more convinced I am that this is a really important skill for all of us to hone.

As a career coach, I am often asked my opinion on things by clients. Sometimes it’s helpful for me to share this. As an ex recruiter who has interviewed and hired 100s of graduates, I inevitably have insight and experience that in certain contexts is useful for me to share. For example, if I’m asked my opinion about structuring a competency answer at interview, or if a client wants feedback on how they come across when interviewing or presenting.

However, relying long-term on advice from others is not useful.

When I started managing a team for the first time a few years ago, I really wanted someone to tell me what to do. I was nervous about making decisions, given I had limited experience of managing people in ‘real life’. I really trusted my then-manager, and would often ask her opinion on how to handle tricky situations in our 1 to 1s.

At first this was helpful, but I came to realise I was over-relying on her guidance and advice. What if she wasn’t there to offer her advice on things? What if I needed to make decisions quickly and on the spot? I knew I had to take responsibility for my own actions and start making decisions on how to lead the team on my own.

At first this was scary. I doubted myself and made decisions that didn’t always work out as I had hoped. But I was often able to spot when this happened, and reflect on how or why it had happened.

Through making my own decisions and reflecting objectively, I became better able to listen to what my gut was telling me, and to trust my own judgement more. This gradually led to developing more confidence generally.

Does this mean we’ll always make the right decision?

Unfortunately, no. Learning from making mistakes is how humans learn. We learn how to talk by speaking gibberish as babies, and we learn how to walk by falling over many, many times. Failure might be useful developmental feedback, but it can still feel painful at the time.

How does this apply to coaching?

I often get asked very specific situational questions by my clients: “What should I do if someone disagrees with me about something in a group exercise at assessment centre?” or “What shall I do if I get asked for something in a team meeting and I don’t have it with me?”

These questions are valid, and I understand people’s desire to want to anticipate and prepare solutions for all potential professional challenges. The problem is, there are so many wide and varied challenges that could arise at work or during a recruitment process. And often these challenges need to be dealt with them in the moment.

Even when the challenge is less immediate, overly relying on others’ advice can be problematic. Seeking guidance and reassurance from others weakens our trust in ourselves, and may mean we’re less able to tap into our intuition in the future.

So, how can we learn to trust our instincts more?

Know yourself. Part of growing personally and professionally is knowing yourself, and having a clear idea of what’s important to you. If you have a clear understanding on your personal values, strengths and priorities, you are equipped with signposts and information that can help provide your own compass when you feel lost and confused about what to do.

Self reflect. Write down examples of when you have made mistakes, and note down any learning you took away. Reflect on difficult conversations, interviews, and conflicts, and write down how you would respond if you were in the situation again.

Approach dilemmas in a structured way. Clearly and fully think through options by writing down pros and cons lists. Talk your lists though with a coach or mentor to help increase your awareness of possible solutions and options, but ensure you filter any opinions through your own personal value system.

Final thoughts…

Before you jump to ask others their opinion, reflect first on what your own gut instinct is telling you. Trusting your judgement might mean you don’t get it right every time, but if you stay true to yourself and your values, the lessons you learn could be even more valuable than getting it perfect the first time round.

Want to read more?

Goals: Can you have too much of a good thing?

“What should I ask at the end of an interview?”

Overnight transformation is overrated

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