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Listen to the niggling in your mind and investigate

When something doesn’t feel quite right, investigate, Nancy Napier writes.
When something doesn’t feel quite right, investigate, Nancy Napier writes. Fresno Bee / MCT

Recently a colleague mentioned that she was in a meeting, hearing about data that would shift the direction of her organization — in a big way. She and several others listened to the presentation, (I suspect) nodded their heads, and then went away to consider the implications of the data and proposed action.

She assumed, like others, that the organization would move forward with the plan.

Except that she could not.

Something was niggling in her brain.

Niggling isn’t a word we use often, but perhaps we should. It’s something that leads to “slight but persistent annoyance, discomfort, or anxiety.” It’s that little irritant that bothers you, that for some reason you cannot quite figure out, and it just will not go away.

That’s what my colleague found: She heard the presentation, saw the agreement on everyone’s faces, but for some reason, something just didn’t sit right. She tried, as we all would, to put it out of her mind. She focused on other things, moved forward with the ideas for the change, but it just didn’t help. This little “something” would not go away.

So she surrendered and decided to look into it. And it is a good thing she did.

It turns out the assumptions, and thus the conclusions, were not just skewed but way off. If her organization had made the change it intended to, the results could have meant a huge expense, lots of anguish over the change, and perhaps ultimately a major loss — in money, staff and time.

I remember something similar the summer of 2007. I sat at a Downtown restaurant, outside on the patio, with a friend from Germany and people from Boise. Another friend stopped by. We got to talking about how Boise seemed to be booming and housing was going through the roof. We compared notes with our German visitor about his observations. The friend who stopped by stood at the edge of the fence and said, “It just doesn’t quite feel right. … I’m noticing an uptick in foreclosure notices…not a good sign.” And of course, that niggling proved right as we all watched the economy tank a year later.

So listen to your niggles. If you’re someone with a fair amount of experience and you find a small tug at your mind that something doesn’t seem right, trust yourself and investigate.

Often it takes just a few hours or days that could save you much more in the future.

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor, Boise State University, nnapier@boisestate.edu.

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