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Balancing Instinct and Insight: Mastering Decision-Making in a Fast Paced Environment

When can we rely on our intuition when making decisions?

If you take a quick scroll through any leading business publication, you will invariably come across articles such as ‘intuitive leaders are the most successful’, ‘why intuition is a superpower in businesses” or ‘intuitive people make great leaders’. Indeed, how many times have we heard a similar sentence in development or coaching sessions.

Jurana Thorburn

Working in a human-centric industry with its many complexities, it’s a skill that hoteliers must utilize more than most, and as female leaders within it, gives us an opportunity to really harness the power of female intuition. However, it does come with it limits.

By its definition, intuition is the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning.

By its definition, intuition is the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning. It is also non-vocal and non-planned thinking which can help us to make judgement on spot; a mystical gut feeling that tells us if something is right or wrong.

There is various research on this subject but pioneer in the field of naturalistic decision making was Klein who worked with emergency service workers to devise a model called The Recognition-Primed Decision which explained how people who work in high-pressure situations make crucial decisions so quickly based on pattern recognition and past experiences. Klein identied three steps; experiencing the situation, analyzing the situation, and implementing the decision, and it’s important to use these principles to prepare yourself and your team for making better decisions, be it identifying possible situations or creating training scenarios ahead of time.

In hotel operations we see patterns and collect experiences from situation analysis, guests, colleagues, events, or quite often, all these together at once. As our brain evaluates these so fast and automatically guides us in making judgement calls, it’s critical that to engage in intuitive decision making, we often must have a stack of anecdotal experiences, instincts, and emotions to help guide the way.

Whether it’s how to deal with a main water pipe that’s suddenly broke when you are running on full occupancy, the child who has slipped near the pool and whose parents are furious, or a last-minute call from the royals who are on their way to stay despite the hotel being sold out, we know what to do, even if we don’t understand how we know we do. And much like any skill, the more you develop intuition, the better you become. 

Take the first situation for example, having water pipe shutdown for unknown time. Yes, there are SOPs in place and the scenario of moving guests to sister properties, but no matter how well trained leaders might be in facing a situation like this, it’s intuituion that will help them deal with unsatisfied guests, panicked colleagues or finding solutions how to best to deal with the challenge. 

However, even in people driven industry, is listening to a ‘gut feeling’ enough? 

As tempting and natural as may be to do so, solely relying on it can be the wrong move to make. One of the main issues of intuition, is that ultimately, wherever we work in operations, we are human too. And whilst the smiling face may always look unwavered, we can be influenced by our emotions and personal biases, which can often cloud our judgement and lead to wrong decision making. Relying on intuition, instead of using it as confirmation, can make us overconfident even when we need more information. Every situation is different, and whilst we might have experience in dealing with something similar, there is sure to be a nuance or two.

Relying on intuition, instead of using it as confirmation, can make us overconfident even when we need more information.

Although we cannot deny that intuition is extremely important in hotel leadership, it’s essential to support it with data and metrics. Like most things in life, finding the balance between the two is key, and whilst data provides valuable knowledge and trends, it’s still the human touch that will elevate a guests stay from a cold transaction into a once in a lifetime experience. 

After all, it’s often not the hotels facilities that guest remember long after their stay, it’s the people who gave them genuine heartfelt moments during it.

It’s why the ability to understand unspoken needs and think ahead in crucial moments can be the difference between a good review and an exceptional one. Nothing will or ever should replace that, but we should use available data, such as knowing guest preferences or stay history to support. 

Maslina Resort in Croatia
Maslina Resort in Croatia

Jurana Thorburn is the Wellness Director at Relais & Chateux 5-star luxury Maslina Resort. A passionate hotelier and wellness enthusiast, Jurana holds a master’s degree in Sociology. Originally from the coast of Croatia, Jurana started her career working in events and PR, before entering the luxury hospitality industry when she moved to Qatar. Her hospitality journey has since taken her through a range of departments and countries, including the United Arab Emirates and most recently back to Croatia, working for luxury brands such as IHG, Marriott and Relais & Chateaux. Naturally curious about guest wellbeing and providing a holistic guest experience, Jurana moved to become Director of Wellness in one of most beautiful resorts in Europe. 


Passionate about people, luxury service, and dynamic operations, Jurana is dedicated to constant development of both herself and her team, and has taken inspiration from some great mentors. In her private life, she is wife and mum who loves to watch a good movie or enjoy morning jogging.


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