How To Avoid Irrational People On Your Team

Jul 12, 2023, Written by Jim Miley

How do you avoid irrational people on your team?  You can’t… so the best thing to do is work to make sure your team is made up of rational people. 

Some roles in life don’t require particularly rational thought, an artist for example.  If the situation allows for complete subjectivity while still producing a positive outcome, this post may not apply.  But if you run a business and your team needs to meet specific objectives and customer requirements, read on. 

Before I get too far along and risk striking a negative tone, let me expand upon “rationality” in the business setting.  We all exhibit varying degrees of rationality across different circumstances.  I recently came across material published by a researcher that prompted me to consider how we evaluate “rationality” in both our recruiting activities for clients and in development plans for existing team members. 

What Is a Rational Person?

Merriam-Webster defines it this way.

Rational: adj.

            a: having reason or understanding

            b: relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason 

Keith Stanovich, researcher, educator, and author with the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the University of Toronto, Canada expands upon the plain dictionary definition of rationality. 

Stanovich points out that rationality is distinct from intelligence.  A person can be intelligent and irrational at the same time.

Technical knowledge, education, certifications, experience, and a strong resume don’t assure a rational-thinking person.

According to Stanovich, there are behaviors or traits we can observe and develop in a person which are indicative of a “Rational Person.” 

The definition of rational in this context includes the following.

To be rational means to adopt appropriate goals, take appropriate action given one’s goals and beliefs, and hold beliefs that are commensurate with the available evidence.

Broad components of rationality are adaptive behaviors, good judgment, and good decision-making. 

How do you make sure you have rational people on your team?  You identify concrete criteria for both evaluating and developing rational team members. 

By incorporating solid evaluation criteria and interview questions, you maximize the probability that a job candidate reveals where they are on the rationality scale. 

With existing staff you can introduce training plans that build the specific skills and development needs to optimize a rational approach to decision making. 

I’ve condensed the behaviors and traits of rational people into 5 behaviors that we can both observe and develop.  Whether interviewing prospective team members or working on development plans for existing staff, the following will help you build a team of rational people.   

5 Traits of Rational People

  1. Focus on the Future More Than the Past

Rational thinking people focus on leading indicators and trends. They will tend to be solutions focused and concentrate on variables they can control.  

The Irrational thinker will tend to dwell upon the past. They may remain stuck on negative outcomes or decisions with which they didn’t agree.  

Interview Question: Can you tell me about a decision you disagreed with and how you responded to it?

Development Plan: Training on leading versus lagging indicators or Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  

  • Asks Questions First

The rational thinker will seek to understand a situation before acting

They will ask questions to confirm they are taking the proper direction or action.

Irrational behaviors may include snap decisions, over-confidence, or a bit of an ego-centric disposition.

Interview Question: What is the first thing you do when you encounter a serious problem at work?

Development Plan: Effective Problem-Solving courses. Coaching and education focused on facts versus opinions (non-facts.)

  • Makes Plans and Follows Plans

Another trait of rational thinkers is the use of planning tools. Rational thinkers tend to be goal oriented so they will typically plan objectives, create plans, and review progress toward the goal.  

Traits of irrational behavior include “flying by the seat of their pants” or “winging it.” Not putting sufficient energy into being prepared for or planning on foreseeable challenges.  

Interview Question: Do you use any specific planning tools? Tell me how you set priorities. How do you know to change priorities?  

Development Plan: Time management courses and project management where appropriate.

  • Uses Continuous Learning to Adapt

Rational thought will often be reflected in strong communication skills that include a desire for information. Rational thinkers will consider others’ input in adapting actions to meet challenges. Rational thinkers will see opportunity in adversity.

Irrational people will often not ask questions when making decisions. 

They will tend toward static knowledge on a given subject and demonstrate a “Lone Wolf” mentality.

Interview Question: Can you tell me about a bad problem you’ve encountered and how it was resolved?

Development Plan: Team building skills and effective problem-solving skills.

  • Led By Facts and Data Over Emotion

The rational person will seek facts. They want to distinguish fact from fiction and will tend to communicate with facts and data. The rational person will often respond to challenges based on what they can control or influence.

Irrational people may tell you that “perception is reality” and tend to be very opinionated. Personal desires and motivations will drive their actions.  

Interview Question: Tell me about a situation where you needed to make a decision and weren’t sure what to do… how did you handle it?  

Development Plan: Decision Making and Analysis courses.

Evaluating team members’ hard technical skills and competencies is the more clear-cut side of building an effective team for your business.

Be sure to consider how prospective employees or current staff think and whether it’s rational. 

The sooner you make “Rationality” a criterion for employee recruitment and development, the sooner you will know how to avoid irrational people on your team.  

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Jim Miley

As a Business Coach, Jim brings a broad background of operational and sales management skills and expertise to help small business owners grow their business and reach their highest potential. He has 30 years of field-proven professional experience.

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