What percentage of your coworkers are deep-down, no-good, dirty, rotten scoundrels?
I consider myself a recovering pessimist and I’m not alone. Assuming the worst intent of others is really easy to do.
In fact, it helps us justify why we avoid certain people or ignore their existence completely.
After all, if your coworker is a jerk, you are justified in not collaborating.
In the leadership context, if someone on your staff is evil, then it’s much easier to make their life difficult and push them out the door.
But here’s a leadership secret: people do dumb stuff all the time.
And that is the idea behind Hanlon’s Razor.
Hanlon’s Razor states that we shouldn’t attribute to evil intent things that are easily explained by stupidity.
In other words, your coworkers aren’t evil, they’re probably just dumb ?
A Driving Lesson
A 90-second story about driving (below) will really drive home this idea (pun intended).
As the video states, we judge others by their actions, yet we judge ourselves by our intentions.
It’s easy to do since we know what’s going on inside our minds. This is self-awareness.
But it takes more effort to really consider what our peers are going through. What are their emotions, desires, goals, fears, motivations, etc.
This is empathy.
Looking outside of our own minds where we are kings of the world is difficult.
But it pays off.
Relationship Management and Hanlon’s Razor
It’s unhelpful to consider coworkers or members of your team as evil. When you view others in this lens you are demonstrating a lack of emotional intelligence. This is a problem since emotional intelligence is a key skill that effective school leaders nurture.
Relationship management is just one aspect of EQ.
It can be defined as “[Y]our ability to use awareness of your own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully … People who are able to see the benefit of connecting with many different people, even those they are not fond of.”
Labeling those across the aisle as evil only leads to breakdowns in communication and an ability to work together. Ultimately it leads to an impasse and work stops getting done.
Understanding that Hanlon’s Razor exists will help us slow down our predisposition to label others as evil.
According to the authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, 70% of leaders have difficulty handling stress and this is when we are most susceptible to labeling our peers as villains and making poor decisions.
Conflicts arise because many people tend to avoid them until they are at a boiling point. By then, it’s too late.
So the next time you are stressed — slow down, take a breath, and get curious about the situation.
Talk to your coworker.
Listen intently and don’t judge.
You may also consider inverting this model. What if you thought: why is this individual absolutely right to behave this way? How is it in her best interest? How did that behavior actually make the organization, project, etc. better?
It’s very hard to label someone as evil when you know them well.
Another antidote to Hanlon’s Razor is to build culture.
Bring your team together often and show them appreciation. This post has 10+ ideas on how principals can show appreciation to teachers and build a positive culture in the process.
If you connect regularly as human beings not only will you build your culture, you will improve productivity and job satisfaction, and you just might make a few friends along the way as well.