When It’s Irrational to be Rational

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A friend of mine recently asked me for advice in dealing with a person that she thought was being irrational.

“She is being irrational and I can’t seem to get her to see the logic of my point. I’ve tried multiple times.”

Here was the dilemma as I saw it.

My friend was thinking purely logically. Her counterpart was reacting purely emotionally by taking the issue at hand personally.

Here’s a great quote from legendary attorney Gerry Spence (who hasn’t lost a case in nearly 40 years):

“You can never win an emotional argument with logic.”

When the other person is being irrational, it doesn’t help the situation to be rational.

In fact, when the other person is irrational and logic isn’t working, it’s irrational for you to be rational.

(I know that last sentence might seem a little confusing.)

Let me explain.

Every conversation occurs via four different channels. They are:

  1. Verbal (the literal meaning of what you said)
  2. Non-Verbal (what you meant regardless of what you actually said)
  3. Logic (the logic of what you said/meant)
  4. Emotional (what the other person feels about how they interpret what they perceive you said/meant)

Many people in high analytical fields like consulting, banking, or engineering tend to have highly developed verbal (channel 1) and logical (channel 3) skills. The assumption is that whatever is said is taken and understood literally and logically.

Let’s walk through an example:

If you say, "I’d like the report to be completed by Monday morning at 9 am," you might assume that the message is clear. You want the report at 9 am on Monday.

This seems like a verbally clear and logical communication.

BUT, it doesn’t matter what you said. It matters a lot what the other person “heard.”

The other person might be thinking:

"You are such a jerk." 

"I told you my brother’s wedding was this weekend months ago. I wanted this weekend to be work-free."

"You’re punishing me for what I said in the staff meeting last month."

"But if I complain, you’ll fire me... so I’ll keep my mouth shut."

Here’s the disconnect.

For you, the Monday deadline is a logical thought. For your employee, it is an emotional one.

If you argue the rationality of the Monday 9 am deadline, it will fall on deaf ears. When the other person is thinking (or feeling, rather) emotionally, it is hard for him to hear anything logical.

When you have high emotional intelligence (“EQ”)/fluency, you’re able to recognize, notice, and communicate in all four communication channels.

When your EQ isn’t as high as your IQ, there is a high likelihood that you are only sending and receiving communication via two channels.

When you’re missing half the conversation, you can’t possibly be effective in working with or managing other people.

When interpersonal situations blow up, you have no idea what happened and why.

When you’re technically strong but keep getting passed over for promotions, it’s often an issue of low EQ.

When you struggle to navigate corporate politics, it’s an EQ issue.

When you’re frustrated because everyone around you isn’t being logical, but they are getting ahead of you — that’s also an EQ issue.

You can be right, or you can be effective.

Sometimes it's irrational to be rational.

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