You know that feeling deep in your gut; the one that tells you not to trust the person you're talking to? Trust it--it almost always has critical information to share with you if you listen.

I've had several occasions in my career where my gut told me not to work with someone. But, because I was in need of the work at the time, I ignored it to my peril. It was always a mistake.

I once worked with a startup that had just secured investors--a startup's dream, of course. Without warning, the CEO completely disappeared; he left the country. He never responded to anyone, and he didn't pay the consultants or principals what he owed them. He just left and cut off all communication without explanation to anyone involved.

Another time, a client turned from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde because of what turned out to be a severe personality disorder. He tried to avoid paying the outstanding consulting fees he owed. I had to take this client to court and get involved with all kinds of distracting, time-consuming, and expensive legal dealings, which were a big drain on my business--and on me, personally.

Though it took a long time, I ultimately prevailed in that case, but it was a painful experience and one I'd like to help others avoid. Trust me, no small business owner needs that kind of angst.

Judgment can lapse, but instincts won't.

Most people don't like to talk about these kinds of situations because they fall firmly in the realm of failure, but I'm not the only who has made such mistakes. In our fast-paced world where connections mean everything, it can be easy to ignore the whispers of doubt about certain people.

When you have many potential business partners, it's critical to hone these instincts. If a little voice in your head whispers that a person isn't to be trusted, run away--fast.

If, however, you have doubts but decide someone may be worth a shot, it's still important to practice careful and thorough vetting. Some people can put on great fronts before proving to be unreliable, so you're wise to exercise due diligence to make sure they're legit and honorable.

Here are a few ways you can back up your gut instincts:

  • Notice the 'vibe.' First, pay attention to your visceral reaction to the person. Do you have a rapport? Does he or she seem trustworthy and genuine? Maybe you've spent years ignoring your gut and aren't sure anymore that it can be trusted. Thankfully, instincts don't leave us, and you can learn to listen to (and trust!) them again.
  • Do your research. Assuming you get a good vibe, it's time to get to work. Google provides a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to checking someone out. At a minimum, look through all of a person's social media profiles and websites. Pay attention to how he or she interacts with others. Go past Page 1 of his or her Google results. You may discover information the person thought (or hoped) had disappeared. Read what others have said about him or her as well.
  • Validate the connection. Let's get real. Vetting people can take a lot of work. Before further solidifying the connection, make sure this person will actually add value to your work and is worth your time and effort in diligence. If you can both provide real value to each other and good rapport has been established, the connection will likely be worth the effort.

Sometimes, you just won't catch the warning signs early enough that will eventually lead you to a professional breakup later on. But, over time, you'll refine your gut instincts, trust your judgments, and use them to make valuable, trustworthy connections wherever you go.