Cambridge dictionary defines common sense as: “the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way. Broken down even further ’common‘ is defined as the same in a lot of places or for a lot of people and ’sense‘ is a general feeling or understanding.”
Let that soak in for a minute, or two, and think about how we apply that to our work. Often, we end up forgetting how things were when we were the new employee and that we in fact did not know everything upon arrival. After working at a specific job for a period, in any field, we pick up things that do in fact become “common sense” for someone familiar with that routine. However, someone new to a position will not have that same vantage point.
I had a great example of this with my son that completely put into perspective how we can forget that common sense is not so common until it is learned.
I was outside with my neighbor and when my 17-year-old son drove up and said “hi” to us. As he drove, I could hear a grinding sound. My neighbor and I looked at each other and said, “that doesn’t sound right”. I walked over to the house and asked my son, “how long has it been making that sound?” He said, “I had noticed it about two weeks ago, and it was not that bad.” I then got into the car to take it for a quick drive, with my son, to see if we could determine what was making the noise. I barely backed up and I could hear and feel the sound of metal-on-metal and I stopped immediately. We got out and looked at the car. I could see that the brake pad was grinding against the brake drum. A clear mark was visible indicating that there was metal-on-metal. I looked at my son and asked “why did you not say anything” when he heard the noise? I said, “Hey buddy if you hear a noise when you are driving that doesn’t sound right, you got to let me know”. I could not believe that he did not tell me the car was making this noise! He looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know”. That put my emotions into check, and I said to him “of course, you don’t, you have never had a car before in your life, why would you know?” It was the sudden realization that what was “common sense” to me was not to him. He had not learned it and I had not taught him yet. I have been driving for 30 years to his 5 months, there is no reason he would know this yet. What was common knowledge to me, and to you, is not common knowledge to a 17-year-old boy who has never owned a car and has been driving for less than 5 months. That is my responsibility as a leader. I must share those learnings prior to trying to hold others accountable to what most call, “common sense”.
That was a daily life interaction. How often do we make these same assumptions at work? We have to remember that not everyone has the same baseline knowledge we have until we teach it.
As a leader, it is our responsibility to provide our team members with what to do and why it is important, ensure they know how to do something, and then provided them with the resources to be successful.