Informed intuition in volunteering

Learning to listen to that voice in your head that tells you something isn’t right.

You are walking alone in a parking lot and suddenly all of your senses are heightened. You’re not sure why—you didn’t hear or see something specific that made you feel this way. Still, you immediately start walking faster, looking around. Perhaps you are developing a safety plan as you hurry to your car.

This is an example of acting on informed intuition. Informed intuition can be described as seeing the unseen, understanding without the need for reasoning or, as Friends for Youth has said, knowing without knowing why. Some people consider intuition to be that initial instinct when faced with a choice.

Is intuition a real thing?

Consider this: You are constantly processing your surroundings and storing knowledge. Intuition kicks in when something in one moment reminds you of information you have gathered through other life experiences. In the above situation, you may have heard the quietest of sounds, caught a glimpse from the corner of your eye or noticed something out of place without consciously recognizing the exact trigger. We describe this as a gut feeling or instinct, but in many situations there is more going on.

We often have physical responses when intuition kicks in—particularly when our intuition is detecting a problem. You may feel clammy, a change in temperature, a tightening of the stomach, a sick feeling or the hair standing up on the back of your neck—all signs to seek safety. It is common for people to dismiss these signs of unease because they can’t describe why they feel the way they do. Taking a moment to process the situation can sometimes lead to some answers—perhaps someone is crossing boundaries, breaking rules or acting out of the norm.

How does intuition relate to volunteering?

Many volunteers work with vulnerable populations—children, persons living with disabilities, the elderly, refugees and others. Some people target vulnerable populations for a variety of reasons. Your intuition is a gift that allows you to recognize unsafe situations for the populations you serve. It is common to think you are over-reacting or misreading the situation, but often you are unconsciously picking up on information that reminds you of unsafe situations you have had yourself or know about through others. By acknowledging this intuition and understanding it is enough to act on, you will feel more comfortable talking to someone when you “have a bad feeling” that should be further examined. 

When this happens, Michigan State University Extension recommends volunteers bringing concerns to the volunteer coordinator. Share your observations and as much about the situation as you can. Even if everything checks out, it is better to be safe and precautious when working with others.

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