8 Ways to Develop Better Common Sense

manager and employee reviewing a report
••• GettyImages/David Shopper

Manager to employee: “You know, if you just used a little common sense, you wouldn’t make so many bone-headed errors.”

Have you ever been told you need to use more “common sense”, or that you lack common sense?

Alternatively, have you ever had an employee that just seemed to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, or who seemed to lack the judgment or decision-making ability to figure out the things that a “normal” person would find intuitive?

We all like to think we have common sense. After all, it’s “common,” so most people must have it, right? When we look around, it seems like we are often surrounded by people who lack common sense.

What do I mean by common sense? Merriam-Webster defines it as:

Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.

Well, that sounds awfully subjective. Your idea of “sound and prudent” may be very different than mine. Most of us know it when we see it; more so, most of us have no problem pointing it out when it’s missing. We usually do this by saying something like, “Harold, what the world were you thinking?!”

Sure, we’ve all had a few of those moments. I know I have. When we think of someone as “lacking commons sense,” we’re talking about the repeat offenders that for whatever reason, consistently seem to make errors in judgment that most reasonable people wouldn’t make.

Can common sense be learned? Can you teach it to someone? Can you learn it from a course, book, coach, blog post, or some other method?

As a manager, coach, trainer, teacher, parent, friend, or co-worker, is there ANYTHING we can do to help the common sense-deprived person make better decisions? More importantly, is there anything we can do to help ourselves develop better common sense?

If someone is willing to step up and seek help – can we help them? Can you learn, or teach someone common sense?

While I’m no expert in psychology, I’ll suggest the following steps as a guide to improving your own, or someone else’s, common sense.

Eight Ways

Admit you have a problem.

The first step is to recognize there’s a problem, the hardest and most important step of all. With consistent and caring feedback – and after getting repeatedly burned – someone might have enough self-awareness to step forward and declare “I’m lacking common sense and I need help!”

Without taking that first step, I’m afraid there’s no hope. You, your employee, or co-worker is doomed to a career full of boneheaded moves.

Slow down.

Many errors in judgment are a result of impulsive, hasty decisions. If you know you’ve got a problem with common sense, you need to sacrifice decision speed for decision quality. When in doubt, sleep on it. At least one night, maybe two. Maybe a week.

Bite your tongue.

If there is any doubt that what you’re thinking of saying might be taken the wrong way or get you in trouble, then don’t say it. Yes, you’ll be less talkative, less funny, and find yourself bleeding at the mouth a lot, but that’s a lot better than having your foot in your mouth all the time. At least I think it might be – actually, both sound pretty uncomfortable.

Get feedback from others.

Before you send that email, have that conversation, spend that money, or whatever other train you’re about to wreck, seek out the advice of others. Test the decision with your manager, peers, direct reports, or anyone else that can give you honest, constructive feedback. Then, make sure you listen to that feedback.

Take a personality assessment.

Take the  DISCHogan, or some other credible personality assessment to identify your natural tendencies and biases, and how those tendencies may be influencing your analysis, judgment, and decision making. It’s even better, maybe even required, to have a professional help you interpret the data.

Get a coach.

In this case, I’d even go as far to say get a coach with a clinical background – someone that can help you examine your thinking process; a sounding board to test pending decisions, and someone to slap you on the side of the head.

Find a role model.

Find someone you admire that always seems to make the right decisions and ask how he/she does it. Walk through a number of examples of decisions they’ve made, and ask them to explain their thought process.

Read a few books on judgmentdecision-makingproblem-solving, and/or critical thinking.

Will all of any of these work? I can’t guarantee it; however, I don’t buy into the notion that anyone is “hardwired.” People can change if they want to and are willing to work at it.