Dark Matters: Benji and the assumption of reasonableness.


Professor Benji

A couple of weeks ago I received a lesson in management from Benji, our miniature schnauzer.

The lesson was about the assumption of reasonableness, which is a huge help in dealing with difficult behaviour of any kind. Whenever you are faced with difficult behaviour you should strive to make the assumption that the behaviour is well motivated and that the apparently unreasonable behaviour is the result of an honest mistake – either of interpretation on your part or of execution on the part of the other party. If it is at all possible for you to make the assumption of reasonableness, you should use it to guide your actions.

I don’t say that you have to believe the behaviour was reasonable, rather you should consider whether it could possibly have been reasonable. If the behaviour could possibly have been reasonable, no matter how improbable it might seem, it is better to act as if you believed that it was. There are three possible outcomes, which you can categorise as win, win, lose.

  • The most likely outcome is that subsequent behaviour will prove that the assumption was correct. This really is the most likely outcome. Cock-ups are much more common than conspiracies. Most people are reasonable all of the time and pretty much everybody is reasonable most of the time.
  • Even if the assumption was incorrect, you may find that your reasonable response puts you in a position to influence future behaviour and make it more reasonable.
  • In the worst case scenario, that the assumption is completely and irretrievably wrong, you are more likely to get good evidence of that if your behaviour is pushing towards reasonableness.

On the other hand, if you go for the evil twin, the assumption of unreasonableness, you get a lose, lose scenario. The two possible outcomes are:-

  • The motivation for the behaviour was, in fact, reasonable. In this case you will be in the wrong and, unless the other party adopts the assumption of reasonableness you will have a damaged relationship.
  • The motivation for the behaviour was unreasonable and you lose all hope of retrieving the situation without external intervention. My coach, Andrew Scott, gives some interesting case studies that illustrate this in his blog.

I am working with Andrew on his book, which will explain how he resolves situations like this. Until it is published, which will probably be next year, just take my advice and adopt the assumption of reasonableness.

DarthI don’t claim that the assumption of reasonableness is always easy, but I do think it’s always the best thing to do. That’s because it usually works. It works whether the difficult behaviour is an edict from your boss, a revolt by your students, a hostile email, or, in the case that provoked this post, a dog barking in the middle of the night and then pissing all over the kitchen floor.

It takes some effort to be reasonable when you find yourself standing barefoot in a puddle of cold piss but it is worth it. It turns out that Benji has quite severe diabetes. His high blood sugar overwhelms his kidneys and they produce masses of urine, so much that he was drinking about 15% of his body weight of water every day.

Over the last couple of weeks we have been gradually increasing Benji’s insulin dose. His drinking has reduced by about 50% although his blood sugar isn’t yet under control.  It will probably take another couple of weeks to get his dosing right, but at least he hasn’t wet the floor since we started the insulin