I no longer use the term “common sense” other than to criticize the term as having lost its meaning. The majority of the 500 or so workplace death cases I have investigated have involved poor judgment by an otherwise decent and skilled worker. Many incidents of alleged harassment and discrimination may not meet the legal standard of unlawful behavior but demonstrated remarkably bad decision making. There is an absence out in the work world of this so-called “common sense.”
Commonsense demands that the term be renamed “uncommon” sense. The “common” aspect of common sense is supposed to be “knowledge, judgment, and taste, which is more or less universal and which is held more or less without reflection or argument.” The “common” behaviors described above do not match Miriam Webster’s definition of “common sense”as “the ability to think and behave in a reasonable way and to make good decisions.” Nor do these worker behaviors satisfy Karl Albrecht’s definition of “Practical Intelligence” which is the “mental ability to cope with the challenges and opportunities of life.”
I do not know if there was a time when more people practiced common sense, but certainly I do not live in that period. I prefer to use the term “good judgment,” which is hardly “common.” Rather than define “good” judgment, let’s look at the McMillan Dictionary discussion of “bad” judgment:
Foolish – lacking good sense and judgment;
Impulsive – tends to do things without thinking about what will happen as a result;
Unthinking – done without thinking that it might be wrong or stupid;
Impetuous – does things quickly without thinking about what will happen as a result;
Ill-considered – made or done without careful thought;
Undiscriminating – deciding what one likes without carefully thinking about the value of qualities of different choices;
Hasty – doing things in a hurry, without careful planning or thought;
Automatically – without conscious thought or intention, especially because of habits; and
Shallow – not interested in serious ideas, strong feelings for other important things.
Teach people how to avoid bad “judgment” and you’ll eliminate most workplace problems.
Fortunately, you can train most workers to practice good judgment. As an example, the essence of using good judgment in working safely is to constantly pause before the next task, think about the hazards and how to perform the job, and take the necessary steps to finish the job without incident. Similarly, many claims of harassment and discrimination would be avoided if a supervisor simply paused to think about how their remarks would appear, or to ponder whether they really should say that in an email. I will continue to write about the role of good judgment in the workplace, but as a starting point, I encourage you to dig more deeply in your root cause analysis as to why employees do the wrong things. The “J” word may pop up. Then perhaps you can regularly conduct “tool box”-type talks to remind employees to use that uncommon good judgment.