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Home » Decision Making, Featured, Getting Organized, Goal Setting, Headline, Problem Solving

Common Sense In The Workplace

Submitted by on September 20, 2012 – 12:15 amNo Comment

Author: Kate Russell

Common sense is not a common attribute, but it is an exceptionally useful one to have. Whether I developed it at a young age because I was the oldest child of three and spent time looking after two very wriggly and naughty younger brothers, or whether I was just born with it, people have always commented on what they termed my “sensible” approach to problem solving. Sounded deadly dull to me and I couldn’t see what they were saying; to me the answer was obvious. But when you hear a lorry driver say in response to a question “But you didn’t tell me not to reverse into the wall”, and he means his remark to be taken quite seriously, you do start to wonder just how common sense is. After all, I don’t tell you not to run people over either, but surely that’s part of the turf, isn’t it? It’s common sense.

So what is “common sense”? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as, “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts. In other words, it equates to the experience and knowledge which most people can already be expected to have. The Cambridge dictionary offers the following definition: “the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way” means paying attention to the obvious.

Situations which are utterly bereft of common sense are everywhere. For example, currently I am engaged in suing for non-payment of a debt through Money Claim Online, the online version of the small claims court. This is a great case of no common sense – and the lack is making everyone’s life that much harder. First of all the court sent me what looked like a blank piece of paper with the defence. In fact it was a copy of a blank form with the handwritten words “see the attached” on it, but the copying was so faint I couldn’t see that. I had to go to the court. After about half an hour of chasing various people, we located someone who would come and talk to me. The court officer apologised and said that they shouldn’t have sent it out like that.

Then I had to fill in an allocation question and return it by 2nd July. I did so, delivering it by hand at 2pm because I was on the way to Derby and was passing near the court. On 6th July I received an order dated 3rd July saying that I hadn’t complied with the allocation questionnaire requirement. So I wrote first class to correct the record and asked them to confirm they had received it. By 13th July I had heard nothing, so I phoned again and was told that they were six days behind and could I phone back; So how could they send an order saying that I hadn’t complied if they were six days behind? Beats me.

On 17th July I received an order saying that because of non-compliance my case had been struck out and they sent the allocation questionnaire back. Back on the phone again with faintly gritted teeth …… this time I was told to write to a named individual. I did so, enclosing copies of everything to date and imploring him to let me know the letter had been received. This one was sent recorded delivery. Needless to say, I heard nothing; so on the morning of 26th July I made another phone call. The court said they had received nothing, but as I was able to say that the letter had been delivered on 23rd July, I requested that they look again. And they did look again and eventually responded saying that the case had been reinstated. This bizarre mess has resulted in a delay of a month; it’s unfair to the defendant in the case, as well as to me, and it makes for a massive amount of extra work for everyone.

Lack of common sense can impact the workplace in a variety of ways; it can undermine safety, create a great deal of unnecessary and expensive duplication of work, cause tensions between workers, and impact negatively on productivity and profit. In one case I came across recently, the company was preparing its monthly newsletter. The MD wanted it to go out on a particular day. At 4.30pm he could see that the newsletter had not gone out, so he phoned the marketing department to see what was happening. The answer came back “We’re just skyping with the IT people (based abroad and in another time zone) to sort out some final problems”. The MD told them to stop forthwith and complete the work the next day. Firstly, the IT man was working at midnight in his time zone. Since this wasn’t an emergency, it was abusive to expect him to do that. Secondly, there’s no sense in sending out marketing materials at 5pm in the UK. The impact is greatly reduced. There was a lack of sense in the approach which puzzled the MD. When I heard about it I agreed with his take.

Common sense is not something that is taught in university, CIPD, school or anywhere else. I wish it was. So how do you cultivate common sense?

  • Concentrate on what you’re doing, especially when using any sort of machine. You’re less likely to do something stupid if your mind and attention is focussed.
  • Listen to your emotional responses and explore them, but deal with facts.
  • There’s always more than one way of skinning a cat. Think through the various options available and weigh up the pros and cons.
  • Develop a reflective approach. I am not a reflective personality, but I have had to develop the skill (and if I can do it anyone can). Quite simply it is one of the most valuable things I have ever done. Think things through fully before taking action. Sometimes that’s a five minute thinking break, sometimes it’s longer. But it makes the quality of what you’re doing infinitely better. It’s saved my bacon more than once. One of the things I keep saying to clients during the problem solving process, to build in proper thinking is “Let’s take a step back ……” Funnily enough, I often hear them incorporate the phrase into their speech at a later date!
  • While reflection can really help you work better, there are times when you need to think and act fast, especially in safety critical situations.
  • Learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them.
  • Plan and organise your time better. That way you lose fewer things, meet deadlines and make fewer errors.
  • Use the resources available to you. I was very impressed listening to a young entrepreneur talk about how he went about setting up his business. He left school a 16 with no qualifications, but he knew he wanted to build his own business. He couldn’t afford to go to college, so he went to The British Library and learned it all for free.
  • Watch and listen to what’s going on round you. Being aware of the world around you and the people with whom you are transacting can keep you safe, help you operate more efficiently and build better relationships.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in the practical application of employment law as well as providing employment law training and HR services. For more information, visit our website at or call a member of the team on 0845 644 8955.

Russell HR Consulting offers HR support services to businesses nationwide, including Buckinghamshire (covering Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Banbury, Northampton, Towcester and surrounding areas), Nottinghamshire (covering Chesterfield, Mansfield, Nottingham, Sheffield, Worksop and surrounding areas) and Hampshire (covering Aldershot, Basingstoke, Reading, Farnborough, Fareham, Portsmouth, Southampton and surrounding areas).

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About the Author

Kate Russell started Russell HR Consulting in 1998 and now divides her time between advising businesses of all sizes on HR issues, and delivering a range of highly practical employment law awareness training to line managers, including a range of public workshops. Her unique combination of legal background, direct line management experience and HR skills, enables Kate to present the stringent requirements of the law balanced against the realities of working life. She is a senior presenter for several companies and a popular public speaker. Kate completed an MA in strategic human resource management in 2004.

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