“I can’t believe that Jeff didn’t post the training schedule AGAIN,” Janice remarked with disgust. “He’s been told, and he just refuses to do it!”

Conflicts are a part of everyday life, and the workplace is no exception. It can be a reflex to immediately judge another person’s behavior and human nature to assume we are correct in these judgments.

Too often, however, we get it wrong. We fail to employ Hanlon’s Razor, a saying summarized as, “Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice.” In other words, maybe Jeff isn’t being defiant about posting the schedule. An equally plausible explanation is that he doesn’t know how to do it, he forgot, etc.

Humanergy’s David Wheatley has come up with a tweak to the original Hanlon’s Razor – Wheatley’s Razor – to explain confounding human behavior. “Never attribute to malice that which is explainable by a simple misunderstanding.” According to Wheatley’s Razor, Jeff may have no idea that he was supposed to post the schedule, or he may have simply done it in a different place, due to miscommunication.

To build relationships of trust, let go of judgment about people’s behavior. Rather than assuming you know, ask questions to understand what’s really going on. You could do a quick “5-Whys” evaluation: What are the 5 other reasons for the person’s behavior?

Better yet, ask the person directly and compassionately. You may find that your own fuzzy communication started the ball of frustration rolling in the first place.


Communication’s central to igniting leadership. Find out how to de-fuzz yours!

Photo from Dollar Photo Club.