Behaviors aren’t rational

Science, sales, negotiating, and the prison system – not to mention neuromarketing, neurosciences, and decision making sciences – have a base-line belief  that there is a ‘rational’ way to recognize choice –  rationality assumed when the ‘appropriate information’ is available to decide with.

In other words, when choices are made that go against what the world deems rational,  they are, by definition, irrational. So if we get accepted to Harvard, for example, and choose to go to Podunk, we are being irrational.


As a person who thinks in systems (I have Asperger’s), I’m here to tell you that decisions do not get made based on information but on beliefs – personal, idiosyncratic values that we each uniquely hold dear: what may seem rational to one person is not rational to another. And  it’s all subjective regardless of what end you sit on.

If you have good data that the new software you’re being asked to use will be superior to what you’ve been using, the rational decision would be to accept/adopt the material. Yet you have a fear that when using the new technology your job will change, you won’t be competent at your job, you’ll suffer some diminished deference from your colleagues, and you won’t be able to ever get as competent as you are now with the existing software. Those internal voices – the fears and the resistances, the avoidance and the confusion – are what determine your decision, not the ‘rationality’ of the potential solution.

Your ability and willingness to change – to buy, to learn, to choose – is directly proportional to your skills at examining and shifting our criteria. You weight/re-weight your beliefs regularly. So if I asked you if you wanted to learn to kill someone, you’d probably say ‘no.’ But if you knew that someone were going to come into your home to harm your family members, you might re-weight your beliefs about knowing how to kill.

When you assume you understand what a ‘rational’ decision should be, and notice someone making what you deem an irrational decision, you have no ability (as an outsider) to understand what might be appropriate for that person, at that moment, living as they are living, with the people, policies, relationships, emotions, and history of their lives.


When there are others including in decision making – a team, for example – the range of decision criteria gets complex. And buyer’s decision paths are no different from any other decision path: the time it takes the person or team to recognize and manage the full extent of their decision criteria, and come up with a way to enable the appropriate buy-in from the appropriate people at the right time, is the length of the buy/decision cycle.

The first phase that buyers address as they start their buying decision journey involves lining up their internal criteria, the players, the old vendors, and understand relevant systems issues that have maintained their status quo.

The need we can resolve with our solution  actually sits in a tangled web of gooey systems issuesthat not only created their problem, but maintain it every day, and until or unless there is appropriate buy-in for systemic change, the problem will remain as it is: the need is thrown under the bus if a solution will severely disrupt the system.

In fact, buyers buy solutions with personal criteria that usually has nothing to do with a need or a solution. People buy homes with personal criteria that usually has nothing to do with the details of any specific house; software often gets purchased only when the tech team is willing to work with the marketing team – none of which is directly related to a specific solution.

So what’s rational?

There is an assumption that with the right data, at the right time, offered in the right way, to address the right solution, the person receiving the data will accept it. But that doesn’t happen as often as we would like. As a result, we often judge the person ”stupid” or irrational. But what is happening is not information-based.

As you move toward making new decisions, or helping buyers manage their buy-in cycle, start off with helping them manage their decision criteria, rather than beginning with the last thing they do (choose the solution). Buying Facilitation® is a decision facilitation model that actually teaches buyers how to walk through and reweight their decision criteria. Help them discover their own ‘rationality’ so they can buy. They must do this anyway – with you or without you: it might as well be with you.


My newest book: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it is about how decisions get made. While seemingly about the buying decision path the book is usable for any people involved in decision making  and it breaks down the root all decisions take. Read two sample chapters free.

Listen to  Sharon-Drew’s podcast series called Making Change Work.

Buying Facilitation® licensing program: July 1-7, Austin TX.

Learn Buying Facilitation®Implement Buying Facilitation®License Buying Facilitation®

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