The Rarity of Reason: A Wake-Up Call for Workplace Decision Making

Andre introduces a 3-part series on the importance of seeking reasons

By: Andre Kotze & Willie Marais

Does it make sense to you that our data shows undeniably, business teams operate on a serious deficit of reasoning??!! Imagine what would happen to business results if this could be improved??

We at AirtimeBA have meticulously coded and cataloged over 250,000 verbal behaviors in the process of observing over 700 problem solving and decision making meetings. From this data emerges a sobering insight: the act of seeking reasons—a fundamental behavior in sound decision making— ranks as the least used behaviors that we observe (second to last).

AirtimeBA practitioners, as workplace coaches, are immersed in conversations. It quite literally is their job; to help people reason; understand root cause; to raise the level of understanding of other people’s mental constructs, biases, fears, aspirations, culturally linked beliefs and assumptions, traditions, etc. in the process of improving understanding, to make meaning, and to make effective decisions together.

The data we have collected are compelling, and the implications are crystal clear: working teams are operating on a worrying deficit of reasoning. More specifically, the deficit is in behavior that, if regularly used, would improve causal understanding.

What is needed is a conscious effort to use appropriate questions to seek and uncover what informs an individual’s point of view, assumptions etc. This is achieved by using the verbal behavior known as  seeking reasons. This blind spot in  reasoning behavior, as shown in our research, is not just perplexing—it’s a call for introspection and change.

Logic dictates that the more we understand about the root cause or ‘why’ behind a choice, a proposal, a disagreement, or just a difference of opinion, the deeper our shared understanding will be, and the more robust our decisions should become.

Yet, if seeking reasons is such a rare occurrence in problem solving and decision making behavior, what does that say about the foundations upon which our decisions are made and the quality and appropriateness of the actions that follow? Do our decisions simply rest on too many untested assumptions?

The scarcity of reason seeking in meetings and even in conversation between individuals suggests that too often we’re content to skim the surface, to make do with what’s immediate and evident, without delving deeper. Perhaps it’s the pace of business that pressures us to keep things moving, or maybe it’s an overreliance on intuition over informed understanding, or a form of bias. Maybe it’s just a habit! Whatever the cause, the consequence is a decision making process that may not be as informed nor effective as it could be.

As decision makers, facilitators, and leaders, what implications does this hold for us? It necessitates a paradigm shift—a conscientious effort to bring reason seeking to the forefront. It suggests a intentional change in approach that places a deliberate emphasis on understanding others’ perspective and searches diligently for root cause, as well as the factors that drive success. To examine underlying assumptions is not to embark on a diversion; rather, it represents the most direct route to robust decision making.

The underutilization of seeking reasons suggests there’s a wealth of valuable unmined insights lying just beneath the surface of our dialogs. Each overlooked ‘why’ is a missed opportunity to refine our thinking, to challenge our biases, and to make choices that are not just good enough, but optimal. By overcoming obstacles to understanding and addressing false or shaky assumptions, we ensure that our important decisions are informed by the full strength of our shared and collective insight.

The transition from observation to practice involves reengineering our dialogic DNA. It means equipping teams with the skills to not just articulate, but to challenge and unpack the logic behind each proposition. It’s about leaders asking ‘why’ as instinctively as they breathe, creating an atmosphere where such probing is expected, appreciated, and rewarded.

It’s time for the rarity of reason seeking to give way to a renaissance of rationale in the art and science of decision making.

This blog post is the first in a three-part series focused on the verbal behavior known as seeking reasons:

  • Part 1 – a prompt to examine our own dialogue patterns and to ask ourselves whether we’re truly reasoning together, or just coexisting in the echo chamber of unchallenged thoughts.
  • Part 2 – how can we make sense of this and why, when seeking reasons is called for, do we see the reasons of others so seldom. What might be happening here?
  • Part 3 – can we get better at using this behavior? What is the call to practice?