I used to dismiss what looked like irrational action. I’d watch people’s behaviors and, when things didn’t make sense to me, I’d let it go.
“Sometimes people do things that just don’t make sense” was a safe refrain. Maybe they didn’t have enough information or do the right analysis or sometimes actions just don’t make sense. My overly-rational mind would see irrational action and deduce that the person had failed to analyze something properly, understand its implications, or explain themselves clearly.
Talk about a misdiagnosis.
People only do things that make sense (to them), and while I know we all make errors of judgment and analysis, these days anytime I have a “that just doesn’t make sense” reaction a little alarm bell goes off.
By way of analogy, I only recently figured out that getting really nervous about a new idea or a project – and feeling like maybe I should just drop it – is a great indicator that I’m on to something really important (nervousness = my lizard brain resisting me doing something significant and worthwhile).
Similarly, every time someone does or says something really irrational that’s a great moment to pay extra attention, to try to figure out what’s really going on – not rationally, on an emotional level.
These are great sensors to have on in fundraising situations, because it is so difficult (and slightly taboo) to talk about why and how real fundraising decisions are made. You spend time in a long cultivation, building to what seems like a strong, jointly-developed funding opportunity, and at the last minute something veers completely off-course.
There’s no such thing as irrational action.
When I see an “irrational” response, I know that I’m the one whose information about, understanding of, and diagnosis of a situation is not (yet) on the mark.
It’s a great time to pay extra, not less, attention. It’s a great time to listen more.