Common Sense is NOT Common Anymore

common sense magnify search“That is just plain common sense” said one of the participants in my Business Professionalism class. “Everyone knows not to do that.” I heard another person snicker.  Is this true? Does every employee in your organization know what to do and what not to do because of simple old fashioned common sense?

Webster’s dictionary defines common sense as “good sense and sound judgment in practical matters.”

Sense is defined as

  • a sane and realistic attitude to situations and problems
  • a feeling that something is the case

Thomas Payne wrote the book on common sense, literally.  His book, Common Sense was published in 1776.  He noted, “Common sense is sound practical judgment concerning everyday matters, or a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge that is shared by nearly all people. The first type of common sense, good sense, can be described as ‘the knack for seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done.’ The second type is sometimes described as folk wisdom, ‘signifying unreflective knowledge not reliant on specialized training or deliberative thought.’ The two types are intertwined, as the person who has common sense is in touch with common-sense ideas, which emerge from the lived experiences of those commonsensical enough to perceive them.”

So, common sense is basically a feeling or an attitude?  It is a judgement call indeed.  How do we get these feelings or attitudes?  How can we all have the same sense as others in all situations?  Obviously, we don’t share the same feelings or attitudes of everyone in our organization.   Read on to discover some theories about why common sense is not so common.

As the T-shirt saying goes, “I wish common sense was more common.” In the Business Professionalism class, we play a game called “Appropriate or Inappropriate”.  Each participant gives me a thumbs UP for appropriate or a thumbs DOWN for inappropriate. The game is easy enough.  At times they respond “it depends” so that would a thumb SIDEWAYS.  Some of the participants mentioned that a lot of the examples were basic common sense. For example, keeping your voice low and not yell down the hallways at others or make sure you are on time for work everyday.  However, when I facilitate this class for different organizations I get a different response to these common sense statements.   I realized that common sense depends on the culture of the organization.  Also, if the organization is very diverse common sense is NOT common at all.

At Organization A, employees would never yell down the hall to others. People worked in cubicles and if someone yelled down the hallway they would be disturbing at least sixty people in 5 different departments.  Many people were on phone calls and wearing headsets but could still be disturbed. The hallway was empty, however, all at Organization A knew never to yell down the hallway but to walk quietly even if they saw the person at the other end.  At Organization B, employees would yell down the hall to others.  That was common sense because the hallway was long and if they saw the person they were looking for they would yell for them to stop and turn around.  This hallway was in a manufacturing firm, there were windows that separated the hallway from the noisy machines inside.  Sure, they might disturb some of the folks who had offices behind the glass, but it was worth the disturbance because they didn’t have to walk all the way down the hallway and it was noisy anyway.

In the next example, the statement was, “coming to work 5 minutes late, everyday”.  Organization A would never tolerate being late to work.  They worked in manufacturing and they had to punch a clock. If they were late, the prior shift would be upset because they could not go home on time.  Organization B had a flextime policy.  If an employee got to work 5 minutes late, they would simply work 5 minutes later or take a shorter lunch.  So you can see in these examples, sometimes common sense (as the participants of my class stated) is based on the culture or policies of the organization.

I realized that it takes people a while to understand the culture of an organization.  Usually, we do it by trial and error.  I remember when I changed jobs from a start up company to a University, I went through some culture shock.  Common sense told me that if I need resources, I should just ask for them and my boss would provide for me.  Also, not to waste time on small talk.  Well, that “common sense” came from my last organization.  At the University resources were in short supply.  I had a limited budget.  This was very different from my last organization where I could go into the break room and get free food and drinks.  I also chose a wonderful LMS system for the organization.  No money for an LMS at the new job.  Another example of the differences would be small talk. At the start up company, we didn’t learn too much about each other.  We just jumped into meetings, people were virtual and we got things done quickly and efficiently.  Not to say that we didn’t get things done quickly and efficiently at the University but let’s just say there was usually no urgency unless it was “hurry up then wait”.  At the University they valued the Monday morning 15.  That’s what I called the 15 minutes after I got to work and before I started being productive.  Everyone asked about my weekend and expected me to ask about their weekend.  Things were much more social at the University. It was common sense to ask about someone’s hobbies, pets, and weekend plans.  At the start up company it was common sense to get to work and get the work done quickly.  Sure you would get to know people, but usually at company parties, free lunches, and picnics.

I also realized that common sense is not just about organizational culture.  It has to do with our family of origin.  For example, when I was young my dad ruled the house. He yelled to get our attention and never asked, but demanded.  As the oldest of 3 girls I did the same with my sisters.  It worked for him and it worked for me in our family.  At many of my jobs in different organizations the boss yelled.  She yelled at everyone to get her point across.  When I got my first team, I did the same, until I realized that the bosses who did not yell had the best teams.  Some of my bosses never yelled.  They listened, they asked questions, they helped me understand concepts myself instead of demanding that I just “get it” or “do it”.   It took me a while to learn how to do this skill but, now I am so appreciative that I’ve learned.  I now listen what others have to say, I don’t yell or raise my voice, and I don’t demand – I ask.

I grew up in the United States.  Many of our co-workers did not. Many times we forget about cultural differences when we discuss common sense. Each culture has different examples of common sense, for example, personal space, eye contact, and direct communication.  In Germany we stand farther away from our co-workers than we would in Puerto Rico.  In the US we look people in the eye, not so in Japan.  The UK values getting to the point and speaking directly, however, in Italy they love to talk and indirectly get to the point.  Is it common sense to stand 5 feet away from your co-worker, look them in the eyes and communicate directly?

When leaders of the organization set a tone of either aggressiveness or curiosity the culture follows.  If a new president or VP comes into an organization, they can change a culture for the better or for the worse.  I believe that it is important to onboard all of our employees and introduce them to the culture and values of the organization. Sure, some places have an inspiring mission, vision, and values on their website, however, none of the employees know the mission (but, that is another blog).  So, common sense can depend on the organization’s culture, an individual’s culture, or our family of origin.

Next time you believe something is just common sense, think again.  Let me know examples that you have seen where people thought what they do is common sense.

#commonsense  #organizationculture  #culture  #familyoforigin  #emotionalintelligence




 Sharing a unique Relationship

Wide book shelves with blurry effect on book cover“She’s a real piece of work”, Debbie said as she was describing her cousin.  “But she lives in Sarasota and knows the area.  You should meet her.”  That was was my first introduction to Karen, a daunting first impression.  Little did I know what this relationship would teach me.

I didn’t know anyone in the area when I first moved to Sarasota so I didcall Karen.  She met me at a quaint restaurant for lunch. It was filled with Seniors taking their time, visiting and eating.  Karen was not like the other seniors.  She was filled with energy and seemed to have a huge sense of purpose.  She told me tales of her times with the DC three-letter agencies and her escapades in business.  She was one of the only women in a man’s world in the 1960s.  Karen is very opinionated and when she started talking about politics; there was not a doubt that she is a democrat.  Karen asked me about my business and gave advice. She seemed energized by my business challenges and had more than enough to say to help me.  She also told very interesting stories.  It seemed that I was not with the same person that Debbie had described.  I looked forward to our next meeting.

She invited me to her house for our next visit.  The first thing that I noticed was her book collection.  OK, that is an understatement.  I love books and have a modest library full of business/education and spiritual books. Karen has at least 6 bookcases full of murder mystery novels in every room in her house (except the kitchen).  When I told her that I love to read murder mysteries for fun she gave me the grand tour.  We went into each room and she showed me how her collection was organized.  I knew some of the authors and had read all of their books, however, there were authors that I had never read.  She gave me the first books of five authors that she thought I might enjoy.  We spent about an hour chatting about our children and our lives over iced tea. Before I left she “checked me out”.  I had no idea that she has each book catalogued on her computer.

I visited a few more times that year, mostly in the late afternoon.  We drank wine from her crystal glasses that I had admired.  I told her that I collect crystal and she told me the story of how she bought the glasses on a trip to Ireland years and years ago.  She said she didn’t use them much but why not now?  We talked about politics.  Actually, she talked about politics and I listened. I used to joke that I practiced my listening skills because once she started talking politics she got passionate. I checked my books into her library then checked more out. We talked about different authors and plots.  I did not like the French author, I loved the books about LA murders.  She gave me books in a plastic bag and sent me on my way.

The last time I visited Karen at her house, we drank wine, told stories, and discussed mystery books. She had a cough, but everyone in Florida has some type of allergies.  I thought nothing of it.  Her pool cage had been damaged in the hurricane and the workmen were fixing it.  It was a busy day for her.  She said that she was getting older and did not like to drive at night but she drove her friend to a doctor appointment.  She told me about her son’s father in-law who wrote a book and gave it to me to read along with six other mysteries.  I check out my books and went to my 6:30pm toastmasters meeting.  I hugged her and rushed out because I was running late, and one cannot be late for Toastmasters.

Thanksgiving for me means going to Debbie’s house in Virginia.  I had brought some of Karen’s books to read while I was there and the conversation turned to my visits with Karen.  Debbie didn’t think we knew the same person.  Debbie told me the Karen story.  Karen never wanted to be a mom but had two sons to appease her family in the 1960s. She left her family to pursue a career in business with the government in Washington, D.C.  The Karen that Debbie knew was stubborn, selfish, and opinionated beyond belief.  She was a loner and didn’t visit her family.  The Karen I knew was generous, giving, and funny.  Debbie and I shared stories then went about our Thanksgiving festivities in Virginia.

When I got back to Florida it was holiday season.  I was so busy planning for the holidays and surprising everyone by getting married. January was full of work.  I poured myself back into my business and didn’t take a breath.  I did think about Karen, I had not read all of the books and it had been almost three months.  I was surprised that she had not called me so I called her and left a message.  I got busy and forgot returning my books to Karen’s library.  I still had not read all of them.  I always thought about her each time I read another one of the books.

It was almost Valentine’s day when, Debbie called me and said that Karen was in the hospital.  I was surprised but busy. I had huge deadlines that week and said to myself that I would go see her on the weekend.  I had a training Saturday morning and had forgotten about Karen being in the hospital.  In the middle of the training I saw my phone flash a picture of Debbie, so I stepped out and took the call.  “Karen is not doing very well; she is in some hospital in Sarasota”.  I decided to go see Karen right after the training and not wait until I got home.  I called the closest hospital to her house and got her room number.  She was in Re-hab.  That sounded good – Debbie seemed to think she was not doing well at all. Her son’s were with her.  One traveled from Baltimore, the other from New York.  I decided to visit and cheer her up.

When I got to the hospital room about 2pm her sons were sitting in a chair and Karen was asleep in the bed in a sitting position. Her sons were about my age and I knew they did not have a great relationship with their mother.  I remember Karen had told me about what each of them did for a living when we talked about our families.  The men told me that they were going to make some calls and would be back in about an hour.  Nurses were coming in two hours to take Karen to hospice.  HOSPICE!

When the sons left it suddenly was too quiet.  Karen’s breathing seemed loud and rough.  Her eyes were closed and every once in a while she would twitch and turn her head and swing her arms.  She did not look comfortable leaning back against the pillow in her elevated hospital bed.  It seemed to me that she absolutely did not want to be there and was confused at why she just could not go home, read her books, and watch the news.  I was not sure what to do or say, so I held her hand. Not one for being quiet, I talked to her as I always did – about my reactions to the books and the authors. It seemed strange that she didn’t talk back to me – so I could practice listening.   Suddenly, she got very agitated and started thrashing.  The nurse came in to check on her.  She gave Karen more drip.  I kept holding her hand and talking about what was going on with my life. I told her about my business and asked her unanswered questions.  She never woke up.

I stayed with her until her sons came back.  They thanked me for visiting and gave me their phone numbers.  I left after the hospice transport team came in to take her to the building a mile away. I walked out the door and down the quiet, stark halls of the hospital. I felt sad.  Karen had so much life in her.  She had hobbies, friends, and interests.  She had her own little library.  I hoped that she would miraculously get better.

One month later I was sitting in Karen’s favorite restaurant in Sarasota with Debbie, Karen’s sons, and two older ladies.  We were sharing stories about Karen and our times with her.  We raised our glasses and toasted to her life.  Karen had died hours after I had seen her.  She passed quietly in her sleep that night.

Karen’s sons gave me some of her books and each time I pass the mystery section of my library I think about her. I contemplate about the disconnect between her relationship with me and the one with Debbie. Family dynamics are usually so different than other relationship dynamics.  If Karen had not been in Debbie’s family, I doubt they would have been friends. Karen and I had our passion of murder mysteries and the love of books in common. I don’t know why I went to see her at the hospital that day and I am so glad that I did.  I learned to follow my intuition and value my unique relationships.

Do you have friends or relatives that are different with you than they are with others in their lives? Do you follow your intuition? Feel free to share your insights and similar stories with me.

Lori blog

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#relationships  #friendship  #family  #books  #intuition