Friday, April 19, 2013

Where, Oh Where, Has Common Sense Gone?

Apparently it's been around for a while; the dictionary says so...
I find myself using the phrase "common sense" more and more every day... to describe the basic tenets of customer experience and employee experience... but also to describe humanity in general. Unfortunately, as I do this, I actually question it more than I praise its use.

What happened to common sense? Did stupidity really take over? Did we forget about manners? Did we really all forget what we were taught as kids? Were we not taught these things as kids? Can common sense be taught? Or are we born with it? (I don't think we were, but according to the definition in the dictionary - see image above - it's a "normal native intelligence.") Are there exercises to teach or to strengthen common sense?

Why do we have to post signs like this one? Why do we have to remind brands to do the right thing? Why do we need to tell companies to treat their employees right? Why do we have to explain that customer experience is important to the bottom line? Why do we have to remind companies not to tweet during tragedies and to not use those tragedies opportunistically? Why do we have to remind customer service reps that their job is to help people?

Yea, I'm more full of questions than I am of answers. I shake my head about this every single day.

So I started to search for an answer to my question, "Can common sense be taught?" I started my search at home. As you might already know, I have two young sons, and I can pretty much guarantee you based on this very unscientific sample size, that not everyone is born with common sense. I find myself saying, a lot, "Guys, use a little common sense." And then teaching them that, before they react, they should consider the following:
  • Think before you act or answer.
  • Does it make sense?
  • Is it the right thing to do?
  • Would I want to be treated that way?
  • Is that what you've been taught?
  • Is that using good judgment? (Yea, they know what that means.)
And the list goes on and on. Every day. Over and over again.

I'm not asking for the Mom of the Year Award here. But I will ask, does every parent do that? Did your parents do that for you? Is that how common sense is taught? So I did a little research and came across a quiz on the Discovery channel's website with some interesting facts that I think help us explain a few things, especially as they relate to customer service and the customer experience. The following items (in italics) are pulled from that quiz.

The Merriam-Webster definition of common sense specifies "sound and prudent judgment." That judgment must be based on things that are common knowledge and established facts, either by the person making the judgment or by society in general.

So, is it not common knowledge or an established fact that a customer service rep or a frontline employee is there to help customers? Is it not an established fact that customer experience drives growth and profitability?

In order to have common sense, you need to know things and be able to make deductions (reason). For example, you know that stepping in front of a speeding car is likely to get you killed, so common sense indicates you shouldn't do it. However, a 1-year-old doesn't know that a speeding car is deadly, so he cannot act accordingly.

Great. Deductive reasoning is important to good judgment. Should this be a new hiring question, test, or criterion?

The brain produces emotions faster than judgment. The region of the brain that controls emotions reacts faster than the region that controls decision-making. The difference is just milliseconds, but it could be enough for an irrational response to something.

OK, now we're getting somewhere. This is why the customer service rep made a snide remark when you got upset about something on your phone bill that you didn't expect. Emotions first, judgment second. Think about how you can factor that into your employee training.

Common sense is meant to keep us safe and living "a reasonable way," according to the Cambridge Dictionary.

I say, "Define reasonable." I think we've moved into a circular argument here.

Common sense requires social interaction. Common sense is usually connected to universal truths. If you don't have regular social interaction, you might not learn what constitutes common sense and how to use it. This is why very smart people who spend a lot of time by themselves might seem to lack common sense. 

Hmm. Does this mean we need to hire social butterflies? I think you're not going to want to be on the frontline and customer-facing if you're not social. I don't really want my employees learning common sense on the job, do I?

According to Bruce Charlton, editor-in-chief of the journal "Medical Hypotheses," people who lack common sense often have a high IQ. Charlton believes that a lot of people with very high IQs tend to ignore common sense (or learned cultural behavior) in favor of reasoning. This might seem smart, but Charlton believes it often leads to geniuses coming up with strange responses or behaviors.

There you go. Hire dummies.

Common sense is "fluid." What was common sense in the 15th century might not be common sense today. Some ideas that used to be common sense have been since proved wrong and discarded. 

Makes sense.

What is considered common sense in one country does not necessarily add up to common sense somewhere else. If you live in a city, common sense indicates that you must look both ways before crossing the street to avoid being hit by a car. But if you grew up in a rural area, you might not look before crossing because aren't used to dealing with traffic.

Makes sense, too. How will you apply that concept to your employee training programs? Your product design? Your documentation? The way you interact with customers?

Knowledge can help develop your common sense. The more knowledge you have about things, the more decisions become a matter of common sense. For example, if you know what poison ivy looks like and you know the unpleasant effects of topical contact with the plant, it becomes basic common sense not to touch it. A person without this knowledge can't make this common sense judgment.

Aha, so it can be taught!

Common sense is all learned. Common sense in humans is based on learned information, even when it seems that it's connected to innate reactions and senses. For example, you don't put your hand in the fire because it hurts. This might seem like an innate sense (we're programmed to avoid pain), but the truth is that until you put your hand in the fire for the first time (or somebody tells you why you shouldn't), you won't know.

OK, I'm definitely on the right track with my kids then. But for your employees, does this mean common sense training becomes a part of your employee onboarding and ongoing training? Read on...

Common sense can be partially taught to an adult. It's possible to teach somebody common sense, but it would require exposing that person to a lot of "what if" situations and then explaining what the common sense response would be and why.

Is this part of "hire for attitude, train for aptitude?" Does common sense become part of "aptitude?" Are you prepared to teach your employees common sense? How much are you responsible to teach them, if they're going to represent your organization? Should there be a "common sense test" as part of the hiring process?

I'm still left with a lot of questions. Would love to hear your thoughts, now that you, too, know a bit more about common sense.


The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense. -Thomas Edison

20 comments:

  1. It's a great question, Annette, and one of the primary reasons why I wrote Service Failure.

    Most of us use the term common sense to really mean, "Obvious to me." That's what can make it so frustrating when some doesn't exhibit common sense. You see it. It's so obvious that it's hard to imagine anyone else not having the same perspective.

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    1. Jeff, that's a great way to look at it, "obvious to me." Why isn't it obvious to others? Thanks for your thoughts.

      Annette :-)

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  2. Unfortunately, "common sense" is a value judgement. If you believe a person is acting stupidly - that is, not demonstrating "common sense" - you may be exhibiting a lack of "common sense" by not recognizing that they are the ones who have "common sense". If "common sense" refers to good judgment as valued by the majority, I am afraid that the majority is frequently wrong. That is why I fear democracy which is, after all, the rule of "common sense". Maybe we should value "uncommon sense" more highly.

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    1. Jack, thanks for your comment. Definitely thought provoking and another way of looking at it. Your common sense isn't necessarily my common sense. Sigh... more questions...

      Annette :-)

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    2. You sure do make a lot good sense there, Jack.

      :-D

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  3. The older I get, and the more experience I gain, the more I realize that common sense is not commonly practiced.

    Nice post, Annette.

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    1. Thank you, Scott. Couldn't agree with you more!

      Annette :-)

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  4. A friend of mine shared this post with me. Interesting read. Death of Common Sense: http://www.woodwardenglish.com/death-of-common-sense-obituary/

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  5. If common sense is contextual then it must be learnt so it can't be native?

    Does that mean it is an impossibility?

    Made me think Annette, thank you

    James

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    1. James,

      It is thought-provoking, isn't it?!

      Annette :-)

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  6. Hi Annette,
    I, like you, struggle with the lack of 'common sense' in many situations. However, I would suggest that we need to be careful when bemoaning the lack of it. We need to be careful to not assume that people have had the same experiences or have the same perspective or skills that we have. Can it be taught? Perhaps. But, probably not completely as it is relative to it's situation.

    I'm not making excuses for the 'lack of common sense' but do know that it is easier to cast aspersions than to truly stop and ask why this is happening.

    Thanks for an interesting and thought provoking post,

    Adrian

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    1. Thanks, Adrian.

      I like it when I can write something that makes people think - and consider things from different angles.

      Clearly I don't have the answers, but I believe that when it comes to customer service, there needs to be some level of agreement on what is common sense and what is not.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Annette :-)

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  7. Unfortunately, common sense is not always so common. The companies that hire people who have common sense, and then train them to make that common sense work within their system, seem to be more successful.

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    1. Thanks, Shep. Good point... hire people with common sense and train them to use that within their given roles, processes, and systems makes perfect sense.

      Annette :-)

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  8. There's a connection here in this dialog to CSN&Y "Teach Your Children." I have to go listen to that now.

    Thought provoking, Annette.

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    1. Ooo, thanks, Andrew. I'll have to go listen to that, as well. Haven't heard that one in a long time.

      Annette :-)

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  9. Hi there,
    I just had this issue discussed tonight with my good buddy and martial arts training partner. Common sense is what is missing in everyday life. so many single parent families. Kids with out direction of both parents, society being so immoral- with everything about sex.. hollywood etc... we kill millions of babies but, sissy lawyers protect mass murderers from the death penalty. Common sense? We have govt leaders, senators, congressmen, governors, and a president that Demand respect - and keep taking rights and liberties away from the people who elected them, and wonder why no one respects them... Respect - is a big part of common sense... it is not something that anyone can demand, command or expect! it must be given in order to be received... in your quest for employers treating their employees poorly - well it starts with RESPECT.... it this world everyone would just treat each other with a little more respect... just maybe ... maybe we would have a start. That holds true until its time to NOT respect that person! my thoughts for the day...

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    1. Mark,

      Thanks for reading and for your thoughts for the day. I can tell you're passionate about MMA when you're preaching respect. (And I can tell you're passionate about common sense, too!) My kids are in Taekwondo, and that is a conversation I have with them every day.

      But I agree. Respect is a part of common sense. And vice versa. Treat others as you want to be treated. Seems simple enough, right? Seems like common sense to me.

      I especially like this part: if we all just started to treat each other with a little more respect, that's what it will take. Employees, customers, friends, family, neighbors, strangers, etc. If we all do our part...

      Maybe we can start a movement!

      Annette :-)





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  10. Common Sense has been scientifically defined as Emotional Intelligence (EQ). It is reported that 27-45% of your job success is attributed to your Emotional Intelligence. It is also reported that your IQ peaks at 17, while your EQ can be developed throughout your life. Studies reveal that for the population as a whole that EQ continues to climb and peaks in your mid-40s, then begins a slow decline as you age.

    The problem with kids is that the prefrontal cortex is the EQ epicenter in the brain and that is not fully developed until our mid-20s. This is why telling a child to think before they run their skateboard down the railing of a 20-step concrete stairway because it is a really bad idea, results in a hospital trip with a fractured arm. Their brain can't think about it. But their brain can remember. As they say, you live and you learn.

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    1. Jim, thanks for adding that. Great research. I will just question what happened to those folks in their 30s and 40s who still run their proverbial skateboard down that same railing. :-)

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