January 1, 2016

It pays to respect intuition


Rod McDonald My brain has lied to me but my gut never does. Now, to steal a line from Richard Nixon, let me make myself perfectly clear. I would never suggest that anyone not use his brain. God gave us this amazing thing between our ears, it allows us to chart paths and plan trajectories. It is there to be utilized.

Yet there are times when some indefinable feeling overcomes all of us telling us something that is not visible, still exists. Radio waves are also not visible, yet they exist as well. We cannot explain the feeling or even why we have it — but that feeling tells us something.

The brilliant Canadian author, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote a book titled Blink in which he asserts our first instinct regarding a situation is usually right. He tells of a museum hiring experts to authenticate a statue. The experts had all the time they needed to test and think about it. Their conclusion: The statue was authentic. An artist came along, took one glance, and declared it a forgery. It was true. How, in one blink, did he know? The statue did not ‘feel right’ and the artist’s instincts knew there was something wrong.

Describing, defining and defending a feeling or an ‘it does not feel right’ is difficult beyond belief, yet it is important that we listen to the inner voice.

Often, when we refer to someone as being experienced, we are acknowledging he is perceptive and can spot a wrong situation well in advance. Do you remember when The Don in The Godfather tells Michael that whoever from the family tries to broker a peace pact, will be the traitor? That was the voice of experience and also the proverbial gut feeling at work or at least a movie
version of it.

As we grow through this trade of ours, all of us reach that point where we sit back and smile, thinking of how many years ago we were taken advantage of by a situation that would not happen today. Experience is the foundation of intuition.

Intuition is instinctive, for parents

As a child, I could never understand how my parents knew when I was telling the truth and when I was not. My parents may have possessed instinct but, as I look back, my fibs had so many holes that a ship could have passed through.

As a young parent, I quickly learned that my instincts told me who had done what, when and where. The ‘why’ part of children’s behaviour escaped me, but not the other three.

One night we had an apple crisp for dessert. I wanted to save mine for later so I hid it, out of sight and reach, in the upper cupboard. At nine p.m., I went to retrieve my treat. It was gone. We have three sons and I didn’t need to ask; the guilty party had to be the youngest, five at the time. He had to take a chair, climb on the counter, walk across the stove onto another counter, and climb up on the fridge to find my dessert in the top cupboard.

It does not take long, as a parent, to figure who does what amongst kids. You just know, and you learn to rely on your instinct.

Many years ago, we were looking for a grower for my greenhouse. There were several applicants; one candidate impressed the HR head, and she in turn had the greenhouse manager conduct an interview. He was also impressed. I was called in to provide my stamp of approval on this promising, prospective employee.

My interview method is to ask open-ended questions. Stock questions such as, “Do you work hard?” never gain any advantage. I began with, “What types of plants do you enjoy growing?”

She told us all the plants she grew at home, and how her enthusiastic passion for growing was ingrained in her soul. Fair enough. Good answer. I asked, “Where do you purchase your supplies?”

She hesitated and replied, “A little bit from all over.” That satisfied the others, but I sensed she was being evasive. I pressed her, “No, I want to know exactly where you purchase your seeds, soil, grow lights, fertilizer, and all the things one needs to grow plants. I will not be offended if you don’t shop at my place. I just want to know where you buy from, and how each place compares to the others.”

When I have that conversation with true gardeners or growers, I can’t shut them up. They go on for an hour describing what they like to buy from mail order companies, garden centres, greenhouses and they will often mention obscure places. I do the same thing.

I sat there; the sweat was rolling down her brow. It was a detective movie from the ‘40s. I asked her to name one greenhouse and what their specialities were. No answer. I asked her to name one mail order house. No answer. The interview was over.

My intuition had picked up that when she rattled off the plants, it sounded as if it were from rote. She mentioned plants, but not varieties. She presented herself as a plant person, wanting to kick it up a notch and grow in a greenhouse. But she was missing the details.

I interviewed a true plant person another time, asked the same question, and she gave me an incredibly detailed synopsis of my place compared to every other greenhouse and garden centre in the area. She even had the courage to tell me where I fell short. I hired her. She was legitimate

A valuable window on truth

Intuition is very necessary and effective in interviewing people for employment, salespeople wanting you to buy their products and services and potential customers wanting to hire you.

I really wish I could write about a foolproof method where the reader could avoid all mistakes, but, if I knew it, I would have to explain why I still get burned.

There are people who are very adept at hiding their true colours. They have learned, through experience, to avoid exposing those colours in order to achieve their goals. They know, only too well, that to expose their colours, others would avoid them as if they had the plague. I am not certain what to write about those people. The only suggestion I have is to check them out. Find out whom they have worked for, sold to or been a customer of, prior to making contact with you. See if you can learn something about who they really are.

I can write this with a degree of certainty. If you let people talk long enough, chances are their true colours will emerge. Most people can present well for a while, but given enough time, their words will feed your intuition with the information that you seek. Company manners do wear off quite quickly.

All of us have had phone calls from potential customers, whe and indefinable intuition tells us something is wrong with this conversation. Sometimes it is easy to spot, and other times, a bit more tricky. Easy to spot are those who start complaining about other contractors. Those who begin by, “I need you to slap down some sod,” “I want your best price,” and, “I am shopping around for the best deal,” are telling you just about everything you need to know. Along with those lines, the phrase, “I wouldn’t lie to you,” has always set off the warning bells, both in my gut and my brain.  

Intuition is not always bang-on, but remarkably, it has an exceptionally high rate of being right. My long-time assistant manager Heather Lowe and I would discuss potential clients on a regular basis. Heather walks into my office, and informs me the client has mean-mouthed three other landscaping companies in their first meeting. “Oh, oh!” To take that client on would mean we would be the fourth on her complaint list.

There are those people who suggest that taking on difficult clients and making them happy is a challenge we should all be willing to accept. My response has always been that my job is to complete landscaping projects, not change personalities. Those chronic complainers and bargain hunters will remain that way; no amount of accommodation will change them. A strong statement, but one that I will not back down from.

When you are young and starting out, as I was years ago, I had to take the jobs that were offered to me as I had little choice. When doing estimates and proposals, I felt a need to tap dance. As I grew in experience and reputation, I could choose those clients I wished to take on. I no longer felt the need to tap dance. As the prospective clients interviewed me, I was interviewing them as well, subtly. Those who raised red flags with attitude and unreasonable demands did not make it. Life is too short to play with the difficult people.

Intuition can be wrong, as can any judgment that we make, but we can develop intuition and hone our perceptive skills. All we need besides a willingness to do so is time and experience. If you develop that skill set, then the road to success lies ahead for you.      

Rod McDonald owned and operated Lakeview Gardens, a successful garden centre/landscape firm in Regina, Sask., for 28 years. He now works full-time in the world of fine arts, writing, acting and producing in film, television and stage.