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Maybe they aren't evil, maybe they're just clueless...

I didn't realize there was a name for it. Then, a client mentioned a variation of Occam's razor called Hanlon's razor - "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,"

That seems like an overly harsh version of a phrase I've used at times with my clients, "Don't underestimate how clueless someone might be about the effect of his or her behavior." The person may truly have no idea how different the impact (almost always more negative in the cases I've seen) of their behavior is from his or her intent.

So often, we go straight up our ladder of inference to "he or she must know how this will make me feel, so it must be on purpose!" In these cases, it may not occur to us to check with the other person about his or her intent, or we may just not believe the answer we receive (if we bother to ask).

In our marriage vows, my wife and I included "we will assume positive intentions", which has worked for us. And just today a colleague mentioned a variation of this, "give others the benefit of the doubt." Here are some potential ways to give someone the benefit of the doubt - consider that:

  • We may be seeing something they aren't noticing
  • They may be seeing something we aren't noticing
  • We may see the same things but, for a variety of reasons, interpret them differently
  • They may not consider, or vastly underestimate, the impact of their behavior on us

In other words, before assuming maliciousness, consider the possibility of unconscious cluelessness.