In the workplace and in any area of life we find a tension between judging motives or responding judiciously. When we are in a situation that looks like it could either be a conspiracy against us or simply incompetence, how should we respond?
Hanlon’s razor: Don’t chalk up to conspiracy that which can be easily explained as incompetence
This saying, repeated much in years past from a computer programming genius–and personal friend–reflects a positive pragmatism when faced with opposition. Most people have little time and tolerance for true conspiracy. However, it is true that people will oppose you. Do they do this from malice? Or, do they do this from fear? The difference, according to Hanlon’s razor is indistinguishable at times.
A friend of mine recently left his place of ministry leadership after spending time helping grow the ministry from its early stages, pouring out his heart and life for his church. His pastor–who was his boss and employer–seemed to have it out for him. His boss would seemingly enforce every single policy on the books against him, bending them at times against my friend when the rules worked favorably. It sure smelled like a conspiracy.
To be able to take the higher ground is a freeing place to be. Worrying about motive will eat at you while deflating forgiveness and reconciliation. Motives are the unseen domain of the conscience of the other person. The best of us have mixed motives. God knows this. So, wisdom says we respond to actions rather than react to the perceived subconscious of those we face.
If the two choices are either conspiracy or incompetence, Hanlon’s razor is correct. This does not mean you foolishly leave your bases uncovered. These antagonists will surely harm if unchecked. They may be doing it because they are afraid and overwhelmed. This does not necessarily make them bad people. But, it doesn’t make you safe either.
Yes, we discern their thinking and deduce the next acts, especially observing possible threats. But, to judge their heart’s condition is futile and not useful. In the same way, to simply be a pollyanna will not do either. Jesus said to be “wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove” in our dealings. Our lack of judging motives does not mean we leave ourselves unaware of danger. I’ve painfully made that mistake more than once.
When you suspect a conspiracy, here are some reasoning questions to consider:
- What does the offending party have to be afraid about? Could it be you? (Every creature responds ill-tempered when threatened.)
- How did you react when you were in over your head? Does their behavior look similar? (This can be both informative for your own growth and help predict what may happen next.)
- Are you staying up at night thinking of their motives or studying the actions you see? (Reading too deep can be a vicious and useless cycle. Shun navel gazing.)
- Are you looking behind bushes or choosing to be blind? (Take the middle ground. Again, it will eat at you to think conspiracy on one hand, and leave you open to harm to be unaware of real threats on the other.)