Honor Your Gut Feelings

Listen to what your gut says, especially during first meetings. The visceral reaction that occurs before you have a chance to think relays whether you're at ease or not. Science associates these feelings with a 'brain' in the gut called the enteric nervous system, a network of neurons that process information. Gut feelings occur quickly, an internal truth meter. Suzy Welch, former editor of the Harvard Business Review, says, 'My gut is my relationship radar. It tells me if someone is a phony so I don't invest in their business.' On the other hand, when patients say, 'My gut told me that a decision was wrong but I did it anyway,' they always regret that choice.

"People can make your gut feel good or sick. Ask yourself, 'What is my gut's reaction to others? Is it in knots? Do I suddenly feel nauseated or acidic? Does my gut relax about certain people? Do I get a sense of trust or does something feel off? Be careful not to talk yourself out of these intuitions. If you're unsure about your gut's take on a relationship, simply go slow until you get a clearer read.

Feel Goose Bumps

"Goose bumps are marvelous intuitive tingles that convey that we resonate with people who move or inspire us, or who are saying something that strikes a chord. Goose bumps also happen when you experience deja vu, a recognition that you've known someone before, though you've actually never met. Don't worry if you don't get goose bumps around people — they indicate a special connection — but gravitate toward those people with whom you do. Negative goose bumps, however, are warnings of danger or deception, a response to fear. The hairs on your neck stand on end in a bad way, communicating, 'Beware. Stay away.' When you get goose bumps, either positive or negative, use this 'tingle factor' to inform your relationships.

Pay Attention to Flashes of Insight

"In conversations, you may get an 'aha' moment about people, an insight that comes in a flash. Stay alert, otherwise you might miss it. We tend to go on to the next thought so rapidly that these critical insights can get lost. So if your spouse is furious and you get a sudden picture of her as a frightened child, this is your cue to make that child in her feel safe and understood. Or if a business colleague isn't budging on a point in a negotiation and you get a flash that tells you, 'Let him think about it overnight rather than pushing,' follow that guidance. See if this breathing room allows things to shift. These flashes provide extra insight into people. To gain confidence in them, practice following their instructions. Then notice if your life improves.

Watch for Intuitive Empathy

"Sometimes you can feel people's physical symptoms and emotions in your body, which is an intense form of empathy. For instance, you arrive in a great mood for lunch with a friend, but you leave with a headache, exhausted, though the conversation wasn't stressful. Or you notice you're happier just being around a certain coworker. In both cases, you may be absorbing the feelings of others. So when you're reading people, notice, 'Does my back hurt when it didn't before? Am I depressed or upset after an uneventful meeting?' To determine if this is empathy, get feedback. For example, ask your friend, 'Do you happen to be tired or have a headache?' If yes, then you'll know it's her. When it's inappropriate to inquire directly, notice if you feel better after people leave. Empathy often subsides when you're not in their presence.

"Your intuition about people will get stronger with practice. To avoid errors, I pay special attention to what gets in the way of tuning in. I'd like you to notice these factors in yourself too. The main hazards are (1) wanting something so much you can't remain neutral, (2) being too emotionally invested in a situation to see it clearly, and (3) projecting your own fears and expectations onto others. In these situations, I try to honestly admit what's holding me back. When strong passions obscure my vision about love, work, or anything else, I do my best to detach from these feelings by refocusing on my breath and practicing this chapter's exercise on surrendering mental chatter. This helps distract my mind so I can find a neutral space from which to tune in. At those times when I don't succeed, I accept my limitation and wing it on logic or common sense until I'm clearer. In addition, I try to be vigilant about withdrawing my projections. For instance, if I say, 'You are envious,' but really I'm the envious one, I need to address the causes of my envy before I can accurately read you. What excites me about the process of developing intuition is that we must be self-aware and open to our own growth. Then we'll be able to remove blocks that distort perception."