Why Common Sense Isn’t Common

“Common sense isn’t so common.”

Have you said this?

Or heard someone else say it?

Most of the time, you might just have a good laugh about the lack of ‘common sense’ but sometimes it can manifest as real misunderstanding or even as negatively judging someone else’s behavior, which can lead to serious problems.

 What’s going on here?

Why isn’t common sense, common? And, what can you do about it?

The answer starts with CAUSE, as it does in so much of our work.

It all starts with what we call ‘assumed competence’ and it shows up in every kind of relationship whether social, business, or personal. Here’s what happens with ‘ASSUMED COMPETENCE’.

It starts when you ASSUME that someone is competent in something simply because YOU are competent in that thing. In other words, because it’s easy, simple, and ‘obvious’ for you, you assume it must be easy and obvious for the other person.

This assumption is further complicated when you have decided that what’s simple for you is actually ‘common sense’ – because it is simple for you and you already “get it”.

Here’s what this ASSUMPTION might sound like.

“It’s only common sense that you wouldn’t wear your torn jeans on Casual Fridays .”

‘It’s only common sense that you’d have an agenda before you have a meeting.”

“It’s common sense that when you have an office buffet, you don’t rush up to get your share of the food first.”

But, none of these are ‘common’ sense at all. Here’s an explanation of TRUE common sense.

True ‘common sense’ is when EVERYONE agrees or understands something without having to identify, discuss, or describe it with each other.

Here’s what TRUE COMMON SENSE looks like.

It’s raining outside and you don’t check with anyone about whether it’s a good idea to pick up your umbrella and use it on the way to the car, the subway, or work. You just pick it up and use it.

You didn’t discuss it with anyone. You just did it.

And, chances are that hundreds of others picked up their umbrellas on that rainy day without discussing it with anyone. That’s TRUE ‘common’ sense.

But, if you have to Identify, Describe or Discuss it with each other to get agreement, understanding, or clarity, it immediately becomes UN-COMMON.

That’s why when two or more people agree that something is common sense, they might have FORGOTTEN that their agreement, knowledge, and understanding is actually the end result of them having done that thing TOGETHER a number of times.

In other words, it likely became ‘common’ because their frequently shared experience led to them finally agreeing on and seeing it the same way.

But, here’s the thing to remember.

They only share this commonality among themselves and it doesn’t apply to anyone else. So it is in fact not true common sense.

So the next time you hear yourself say, ‘I don’t understand why they don’t get this – it’s just common sense’, it might help to remember that this consequence of  ASSUMED COMPETENCE could be the direct cause of why you are not getting what you want from them.

And, that’s why common sense isn’t so common.

You might also find this Breakthrough Management blog useful to help you communicate YOUR ‘common sense’ to someone else.