We all know what red flags are – those flashing signals that tell you that something is awry, that there is an issue brewing with someone. When we see those red flags, we are on high alert, on guard, tuned to see if the red flag is giving us important information and warning us of potential landmines in our midst.

Red flags definitely get our attention, but often we sense much more subtle intuitive hits that send warnings to us. I call those pink flags. They don’t quite rise to the red flag full-alert level, but yet there is this nagging feeling that something may not be quite right.

One example of that is an experience I had many years ago when I hired someone whom I was excited to bring on to my team. He was smart, interviewed well, and brought new expertise to our group. However, after the first couple of weeks on the job, I started feeling as if things were off somehow. It was a pink flag moment. Long story short, it turned out that he had embellished his resume, was struggling to keep up with his work, and caused a major delay in an important project. By then, the red flags were flying.

Looking back, I could have acted on the pink flag warning and addressed the situation before it got out of hand. I noticed that he was too quick to say everything was fine, asked very few questions for a new employee, and was not communicating with me or the team very well. I decided to be patient, give him the benefit of the doubt, and not jump to conclusions about what was going on. While these are all good things to do, I did them for far too long, ignoring the nagging feeling that things might be headed in the wrong direction with my new team member.

Recently a client shared a pink flag moment with me. He sensed that something was going on with an employee. She seemed distracted (more so than usual in the work-from-home environment) and was starting to miss deadlines. My client hadn’t said anything to her for fear of seeming pushy or insensitive. We talked about how he could approach the conversation now, before it potentially became a red flag. In the end, the employee was very grateful that my client expressed concern, listened, and showed empathy. They were able to work out a plan to better support her needs and get her back on track.

You may notice pink flag moments in the course of your own day-to-day interactions. It may be an intuitive hit you get; you may become aware of a shift in tone or body language of the other person; or you may see a change in their behavior that somehow sticks out to you. Sometimes you may find yourself stuck on a very small issue that doesn’t seem worth making an issue over. Most of the time, it probably isn’t a big deal, but sometimes it is. The challenge is to figure that out, which is especially difficult now, with our world and way of working turned upside down. We have to allow for changes that are not about the person but about the situation we are in, and we have to realize that changes in behavior or tone may be about something going on in the life of the person with whom you’re speaking.

Nevertheless, pink flag moments are still worth investigating because sometimes they are a clue of red flag moments yet to come. When you feel yourself having a pink flag moment, here are a few steps to take:

  • Assess your reaction – think about what it is that is bugging you. Is your intuition telling you something? Did you see or hear something of concern?
  • Test your assumptions – consider whether your own biases of assumptions are at play. Are you going up the Ladder of Inference – (a model we have shared in the past that illustrates the steps we take in our thinking from observation to action and how quickly we can draw conclusions)? Is your reaction grounded in real data and facts or on your perceptions?
  • Look again – make sure that what you are sensing is actually there. Is the pink flag a one-time blip or do you see signs of a pattern? Ask someone you trust what they are seeing.
  • Have a conversation – once you have taken the first three steps, have an exploratory conversation. Share what you are noticing. Ask questions to see what the other person is experiencing. Maybe it is simply a misunderstanding, or maybe it is the first signs of trouble. Either way, a conversation grounded in openness and curiosity will yield greater understanding.

The next time you see a pink flag, take a moment to reflect on what you are feeling and seeing. You may just need to brush it off and keep going, or you may need to take the time to learn more.

When have you had a pink flag moment? What did you do?
Please leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

To learn more about managing your pink flag moments, contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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