Often we see things, mostly the behaviour of other people, and we cannot explain it. It seems odd, it doesn't make sense, and we feel frustrated because it doesn't mesh with our own view or ideas. When we talk about these things, when we see someone do something we don't understand, it is common to say they did it for no apparent reason.
On the surface that sounds reasonable but the usage is often dripped with derision, frustration, and anger.
"OMG that IDIOT said that for no apparent reason. What a jerk!"
We use this phrase not to indicate we dont understand the motives of others but to imply that they have no motives and are therefore stupid.
No apparent reason
But let's take a moment to break it down. What does it actually mean when someone does something "for no apparent reason"?
The key is no apparent reason.
It is not that they don't have a reason, it's that we do not know their reason. This is an important distinction.
For every person in an interaction there are the same number of perspectives. Each person has a unique set of past experiences, knowledge, ideals, morals, issues, doubts, worries, dreams, biases, and so on. All of these things contribute to form someone's reason for doing something and it is guranteed that NO-ONE will have the exact same set of all these things. Therefore, everyone's reasons will be different.
Just because someone does something that is not aligned with what we think does not mean they don't have a reason. If we are interested in that interaction* we shouldn't write these people, and their actions, off but rather we should try to understand their perspective. That is, make their reason appparent.
Conversations are a challenge to share our thoughts and ideas, and hopefully attempt to justify these with some explanation of our reasoning. If we cannot understand another person's reason (i.e. we're likely to rant about them doing something for no apparent reason later) that is not necssarily their fault. As an active participant in the conversation we must help others communicate their reason.
Sometimes people think they are communcating their reasons clearly when they are not, sometimes people aren't even sure what their reasons are, and sometimes people know their reasons but just cannot articulate them clearly. It is our job, as the listener, to help discover their reason.
Instead of guessing at their reasons, applying our own context, or assuming they had no reasons, we need to take a different view. We need to understand where they are coming from.
How? Ask questions, listen, watch their body language, repeat their words back to ensure you got it right, etc. This is all standard 'active listening' stuff.
But the real point is not to jump to conclusions when we don't understand the actions of someone else. People always have a reason for what they do. Just because their reason isn't apparent to us doesn't make it less relevant.
And we too need to ensure we communicate our reasons effectively. We wouldn't want someone to walk away thinking we had no reason for our request, or doubting we knew what we were thinking. Take a simple example of asking a colleague for help...
"Hey Bob, can you please do that XYZ task that I was supposed to do?"
"Hey Bob, I'm really struggling with this other task here and I doubt I'm going to get time for XYZ. Are you able to help me out with that?"
The first doesn't have any reason. The reason is left up to the listener to fill in. They might assume you had no reason, or worse they might assume some other reason from their own mindset, or based on their history of experiences. So instead of them understanding the request and the reason behind it they might sitting there grumbling to themselves "This guy is so freaking lazy. He had all week for that task and now he's asking me to do it for him. Slacker".
When we commmunicate it is up to us to ensure our reasons are effectively expressed. It is our responsibility to help the listener by providing as much info as possible.
Cheat sheet summary
Here's how I'm trying to action this line of thinking:
- Articulate own reasons clearly and simply
- Work hard to understand others' reasons
- Don't jump to conclusions
*Caveat: I said this is geared towards situations when we are interested in the interaction. There are times when we just do not care and thus we shouldn't care about the reasons, real or other, that a person might have.