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How Going Against Intuition Leads to Self-Deception

Has there ever been a time when you had an intuitive feeling about something but you went against it? Regardless of how that particular outcome played out, it probably felt uncomfortable to go against your gut.

It’s common to think of intuition as having a kind of magical source. But it is really built out of a series of authentic experiences that reinforce our ways of thinking and ways of being over time. Once you experience success following a certain path of choices, you are likely to repeat that pattern of thinking. Likewise, if a series of choices leads to a negative outcome, you will remember that information for next time. 

Over time and experience, we begin to develop a sense that we affectionately refer to as our “gut feelings.” It is hard to say how accurate these feelings are in guiding our individual choices, but one thing is certain, they have a significant impact on our self-perception and how we relate to one another.

When we go against our gut, it can be a form of self-betrayal. This can be hard to reconcile. Our intuition is so closely linked to who we are, when we doubt it, things can quickly become confusing.

In the book Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box, published in 2000 by The Arbinger Institute, the authors explain how this process happens to us step by step:

1. An act contrary to what I feel I should do for another is called an act of “self-betrayal.”
2. When I betray myself, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal.
3. When I see the world in a self-justifying way, my view of reality becomes distorted.

They go on to give an example of a young couple and their newborn infant. Both parents exhausted and bewildered by the sudden and extensive changes in their lives and sleeping patterns, like many a typical night in this circumstance, the baby begins crying. The father’s first intuitive thought is, “I should get up and tend to the baby.” But instead, he decides to pretend to be asleep and waits for his wife to wake up and care for the baby, going entirely against his first impulse. He has now betrayed his intuition. Once this happens, it is easy to begin to justify his self-betrayal with thoughts about his wife such as, “she should get up with the baby, I have to work all day tomorrow.” Or, “I washed the dishes and did bath and fed the baby tonight, it’s her turn to do something.”

Just like the father in this scenario, once we betray our intuitive feelings, we quickly begin to inflate the view of ourselves in terms of what we have done right while we equally inflate our view of others in terms of what they have done wrong, or have failed to do. It is through this process our perspective becomes skewed.

You can imagine the type of interpersonal conflict to which this may lead us. As we continue to deny our initial impulses, we layer upon layer self betrayal and self deception, getting farther and farther away from our natural, true, and transparent feelings, and more and more intricately bound up in our feelings of defensiveness, reactiveness, judgment, and doubt.

And the impact of self-deception is far reaching. The Arbinger Institute describes self-deception this way, “It blinds us to the true causes of problems, and once we’re blind, all the “solutions” we can think of will actually make matters worse. Whether at work or at home, self-deception obscures the truth about ourselves, corrupts our view of others and our circumstances, and inhibits our ability to make wise and helpful decisions.”

So how can we sort out if we are listening to our authentic intuition or being blinded by our own self-deception? We start with investigating our motives and exploring whether they are honest or ulterior.

And from there, it’s simple. We try to do better. We make one decision at a time, always striving for authentic, transparent communication, knowing we will have some missteps along the way. Just as the momentum can get going in the direction of self-betrayal, we have the power to turn the momentum in the direction of self-trust.

As we grow in this skill, we grow in our ability to trust our natural impulses and to trust our intuition, one gut feeling at a time.


The Arbinger Institute (2000). Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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Also read:
Using Your Intuition for Self-Care

woman listening to something

How to Be an Effective Listener

One common misconception that many of us have about communication is that it is all about the ability to convey what one wants to tell. We often forget about or ignore one of the most important elements of communication, that is, LISTENING.

Listening is not only paying attention to what is being said but how it is said, the tone, the choice of words, and the body language. Believe it or not, listening is a skill, which you may or may not possess naturally but which you can definitely learn. In fact, effective listening skills are being taught these days at schools and at work settings to help ensure better understanding and better output—in short, to make communication meaningful and fruitful.

Most of us listen to respond, rather than to understand.  Listening carefully to comprehend the point of view of the speaker is called active-listening. Apparently, it refers to listening to the feelings of the speaker. Active-listening or effective listening skills can help maintain healthy relationships, avoid miscommunication or misunderstandings, resolve conflicts, and find solutions to problems.

Here are few tips that can help you become an effective listener:

1. Undivided attention: Whenever someone comes to talk to you listen with your undivided attention. Listening requires giving your complete attention to the speaker. Listening while you’re busy doing something else shows that you are not actually listening. So when your child comes to you to talk about what happened at his or her school or when your spouse is talking about his/her day at work, put aside whatever you are doing for some time and give your full attention to the speaker. It is quite possible that you are genuinely busy at that time and cannot talk. The best thing to do, in that case, is to the person that you will listen to them as soon as you finish the work. Giving undivided attention conveys respect and genuine interest to the speaker.

2. Make eye contact: Maintaining healthy eye contact is crucial to effective communication process, listening is no exception. Effective listening requires maintaining eye contact with the speaker. This does not, however, mean that you have to stare constantly at the speaker and that’s why the term ‘healthy eye contact.’ Therefore, once in a while, take break and blink you eyes, or look between the eyes. Staring continuously can make the speaker feel intimidated, whereas, wandering eyes indicates lack of interest or boredom.

3. Attend to the feelings: Try to listen to not only what is being said, but how it is said, notice the nonverbal cues as well, such as the body language. This can help you understand what is actually being conveyed by the speaker.

4. Don’t judge, criticize, or start telling your own stories: Active-listening involves listening without judging the speaker and being open to what is being said. When someone asks you to listen, that means you need to put aside your own stories. Do not interrupt or criticize the teller. An active listener needs to keep his or her opinions to oneself. Don’t try to finish sentences of the speaker. Let the speaker take his or her time to complete what he or she wants to say.

5. Check for comprehension: In order to ensure that you understand what is being said, occasionally rephrase the key points. But do so when the speaker takes a pause. Do not interrupt the flow. Rephrasing helps the speaker rehear what is being said, and gives speaker a chance to clarify if required.

6. Encourage: In order to encourage the speaker to keep talking, use questions like, “what happened next?” or you can simply repeat the last words said. Another simple way is to just say “hmmm” to keep the conversation going.

Also read:
How to Master the Art of Constructive Feedback