Painful Lessons are the Best Teachers

What it can mean to go with your gut.


I spent the day yesterday facilitating a big event for a new client.  By all accounts, it was very successful for everyone involved.

Added bonus: I got a great piece of feedback from one of the members of the group who came up to me at the end of the day wanting to share a specific annoyance.  She related how really angry she got at me for cutting off another person in the group: a woman who was nervously, tentatively making some really important points.  These were issues many in the group were thinking but didn’t have the courage to say.

I knew exactly the situation she was talking about.  

We were running late and I wanted to keep people “on schedule”.  My schedule.  To make things worse (for me), this courageous person was going on too long, not fitting into the carefully crafted process I had painstakingly laid out.

I had to do something.

And as soon as I did, I knew it was the wrong thing.  My gut told me so.

The gut begins to form in a human embryo at around the sixteenth day of development.  The brain doesn’t start to take shape until three weeks or so.  The brain stem is the oldest part of the brain and it controls functions like digestion (there’s the gut again), breathing, and heartbeat.  The neocortex shows up only much later.

I point this out to say -- crudely -- that we are guts before we are brains, and there is a lot of embedded “intelligence” in our guts.  It’s why we talk so much about the importance of going with your gut. 

My ability to tune into this person at a more basic emotional or gut level was drowned out by the shouting coming from my head that she was not operating according to the established rules and was taking more time than she should.

If I had made the effort to really hear her, and not worry about myself so much, the group would have been better off for her full contribution.  It would not have been fatal for the process, nor would it have thrown us terribly off our precious timetable.  

More important, the group would have been able to respond in a way that would have met its needs far better than anything I did.

This is not the first time my supposedly higher functioning brain overruled my gut to my detriment.  If I could just get the two listening to each other a bit more ...