It Makes Sense to Them

I’ve been reminded recently in my work of an important truism that people tend to forget at exactly the wrong time. I’ll start with the truism:

People engage in behavior that makes sense to them.

This may seem obvious, but trust me, you will forget this the instant you encounter a situation where someone else in the organization is doing something that YOU don’t think is right. It simply doesn’t make sense (to you). You will even ask one of the famous rhetorical questions that starts with "how could they…" or "why don’t they…"

At that point, you are ignoring the truism that just a few seconds ago you said was obvious. “They” did that behavior because it made sense to them. The dismissive rhetorical question, or even the disguised command of “Why don’t they just [do what I think is right]” is heading in the wrong direction.

You need to find out why they thought what they did made sense. You can tell them that from where you sit, that didn’t make any sense, but it helps to also tell them that you are sure it made sense to them, so you want to hear more about their thought process. Now you’re asking questions that might get productive answers and actually solve some problems.

Oh yes, and when you’re hearing the answer, it helps to be open to the possibility that with the new information you’re getting, you might conclude that their behavior makes much more sense than you thought it did. It might even make more sense than what you’ve been doing!


  1. 04.04.2006 at 8:45 am

    You are absolutely right. It’s so obvious yet so easy to forget (or never figure out in the first place).