“A woman uses her intelligence to find reasons to support her intuition.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton

December 4, 2012

photo credit: Mara via photopin cc

It’s an ages old myth that women are more intuitive than men. It stems from the idea that women excel at the arts, while men dominate the sciences. At the same time, it’s widely acknowledged that a key quality of successful leaders is intuition. Many articles have discussed the need to be able to trust your intuition in order to make snap judgements. After all, intuition is nothing more than the ability to make rational, successful decisions in a split-second, without any facts. It is a skill that does not utilise logic, analysis or any of the data that the business world is filled with – but the end result is the same.

But if women are supposedly better at it, why are all the leaders men?

Are women really more intuitive?

A study was carried out back in 2005 to see whether men or women were better at spotting whether a smile was fake or sincere. 15,000 online participants later, the conclusion was clear: women are not more intuitive than men – but they think they are. Men spotted 72% of the genuine smiles, with women on par at 71%.

Of course, that’s a very specific and limited scenario. Intuition covers a range of behaviours and activities, well beyond detecting sincerity in a smile. It’s no secret that today’s environment steers women towards emotional, caregiving roles in life which tend to foster more intuitive behaviours.

Unfortunately, the behaviours that are associated with women are the least useful side of intuition, for the business world. Women’s intuition tends to centre around empathic accuracy, which refers to how accurately one person can infer the thoughts and feelings of another person.

A friend of mine recently told me about a relationship of hers that had come to an end. “He kept asking me questions about every little nuance of my life, and then moaned that I didn’t ask any back. The thing is, I can read him so much better than he can me. I can tell when he wants to talk from his body language – so why bother asking?”

And the nail in the coffin is this: women might not even be better at empathic accuracy. The research has produced a variety of results, with the only consistent result being that this whole business about women being more empathic is nothing more than a stereotype, perpetuated by men and women alike.

What kind of intuition are we looking for in business?

Business is about the snap judgement. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink is entirely on the topic of rapid cognition. In layman’s terms, it’s the decision you reach in the time it takes to blink. That decision might be a judgement of a person you just met, or a vote that you have to make in the boardroom. Gladwell purposely doesn’t use the word intuition in his book, because he believes that rapid cognition is about how the mind assimilates facts in that short time, and is therefore a book about the logic of the mind rather than an emotional endeavour.

I disagree, because in such a short amount of time, you can’t help but have your emotions and gut instinct influence your behaviour. There is an element of the rapid processing of the facts, but there is also an element of yourself to listen to. It is all of these things together that play a part in intuition. It’s time that we stopped separating the arts from the sciences and started looking at what a stronger picture they build when used together.

Can women be just as good at this side of things as men?

The thing about rapid cognition intuition, to coin a phrase, is that it’s a skill. Like anything in life, it’s nothing more than a skill that can be develop over time, through training. But it’s one that’s often overlooked and rarely discussed. In business, it is definitely more than just listening to your gut instinct. I have seen numerous senior leaders review documents and pick up the tiniest of errors at a glance, astounding us minions on the ground with their supernatural precision. It’s not an abnormal trait, of course, it’s simply a skill derived from hundreds of facts and figures being tallied up in their heads oer the years.

The advice on how to develop intuition as a skill varies. It can go from the quite business-like approach of attempting to predict newspaper stories by looking solely at the photos, or the more artsy approach of meditation or even using crystals and stones.

My recommendation is simple: follow your hunches. Listen to your gut instinct, be a bit more spontaneous, ignore what everyone else might say. When you get the feeling to do something, just do it. The more you listen to yourself, the more you’ll trust yourself and your rapid cognition intuition.

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