The Second Third, Week 8: Go With My Gut

Blogger's Note: The whole idea behind these "Second Third" posts can be found here.

I had intended to do a short post this evening about acknowledging and embracing the fact that I am not a rationale/logical decision-maker, but instead am an emotional/gut-level guy. Had I gone with my original idea, this post would be just about over:

"I tend to make emotional decisions, but most of the time they turn out better than when I try to think through things methodically. This is true for everything from my days as a high-school athlete to test-taking, from interacting with family and choosing friends to hiring people (or choosing a job myself). In my Second Third, I need to acknowledge that as a strength and "go with my gut" more.

The end. (Not much of a post.)

However, near the end of the work day today, I experienced a prime example of why "going with the gut" can be problematic even if it tends to work...and why I tend to be apologetic about it. It involved a collaborator and dear friend of mine, who may well read this post, but to whom I will only refer as "my collaborator" or "she." If she chooses to reveal herself, that is her choice!

Last week I worked on a draft of a document that will be public in the next couple weeks, but that requires sign-off from a number of people. It is generally easier to get that sign-off if the version you share with the various "powers-that-be" is as well-thought-out and polished as you can get it. Unfortunately, I am also an instinctive writer, so I can always use help ensuring a piece is, in fact, as well-thought-out as I feel it is. That's where my collaborator quite often comes in.

Last week she suggested some very concrete changes to the opening of the document. I read her changes, then stewed on them a bit. I could see what she was doing, and I thought I understood why, but they didn't feel right to me.

Late this afternoon I began revising the document based on feedback from my collaborator and another colleague. I was working from an old draft because I hadn't figured out what to do with the opening yet, but I wasn't planning to use my collaborator's changes verbatim.

Just then, in she walked.

She could see what I was working on, and she could see it was the old version. She asked me if I was working from an old version. I said yes, and mumbled something about trying to incorporate other feedback. (Technically true.) We went back and forth a moment, and she left.

The truth is, in that moment I couldn't tell her why I wasn't using her changes. Not specifically. So I punted: a low, wobbly, short kick to boot. Embarrassing.

I worked on it. I reworked the beginning, trying to weave in the optimism and opportunity she had added, but in a way I thought suited the piece better. I could've sent it to the next level of review at that point, but it still wasn't ready, and I knew it — I just didn't know why.

I was running out of daylight and up against a deadline. This collaborator of mine is one-of-kind, a person whose perspective (both on work and life in general) has been invaluable over the past few years. So I took the new draft, with my revised beginning, to her.

As soon as she saw it, I could tell she didn't like my opening. She started to ask me about it, and I started to cobble together an explanation of what I was trying to do. She asked what was wrong with her suggested changes, and I tried to cobble together an explanation of why I wasn't sold her approach. Both bits of cobbling were poorly done; she explained what she didn't like about my latest version, and ultimately I acknowledged that she was right: she had explained logically what I couldn't put my finger on — the reason I hadn't simply sent my version of the document up the chain of command already.

"But I'm still not sold on your wording," I said.

We talked a bit more, not completely comfortably...and as is typical between the two of us, she said something that sparked an idea, a solution to the opening that bubbled up in both of us at almost the same moment. She voiced the idea and even jotted some notes, then I ran from the room to try to put it to words.

My collaborator read the rest of the document, then came to my office with only a few minor changes to the rest of it. I asked her to read the new opening, which I had just finished. She did.

"Yes!" she said.

"We got it!" I said.

We laughed a moment about our back-and-forth earlier.

"We don't exactly meet in the middle," I said. "It's more like this..." and I spread my hands wide, then brought them up, up, and together, like an A-frame or a high peak.

She laughed. "We take it to a higher place...I like that!"

"And it's uphill for both of us," I added.

"And it's harder if we're carrying baggage," she said.

She's right, of course. She generally is. But the thing is, that's how my mind works. I know if something feels right or wrong, and I like something or I don't, well before I can explain why. It's a weakness in some ways, because I can't defend or explain myself very well in a collaborative working environment. It's why I hate meetings in which people attempt to write by committee, and why I almost always volunteer to be the one to "consolidate the feedback" and revise a document.

In my Second Half, I need to figure out how to explain this as a strength. But how do you think my collaborator will respond if I don't accept her changes and instead say, "They don't seem right to me — I don't why — I just know we can do better..."?

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