“Common sense is seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be.”
― Harriet Beecher Stowe
Common sense is increasingly rare.
If you’re dealing with someone with no common sense then you know what I mean.
They just don’t get it.
By it, I mean: everything.
Especially practical, ordinary, basic, Kindergarten-level things.
With that in mind:
What is ‘common sense’?
Let me answer this question with common sense.
Let’s skip all the big words and just say it straight up:
Common sense is doing what’s logical and what works in a given situation.
Common sense is the instinct to go for the simplest solution to a problem that will cause the least headache.
Common sense does not mean your perfect or that you don’t make mistakes.
It just means your judgment is generally pretty good and people trust you for that reason.
Similar to Occam’s Razor, common sense is also the ability, instinct, and practice of not overcomplicating ideas, issues, situations, or problems when there is no need to do so.
When you’re dealing with someone with no common sense that instinct is totally lacking.
Now if this person were disabled or handicapped you would be compassionate and patient, but when it’s someone fully capable – and even “smart” in various ways – their lack of common sense can be infuriating.
Here are some tips to deal with it…
15 tips to dealing with someone with no common sense
1) Boost them up
I know that when it comes to tips to dealing with someone with no common sense this isn’t what you expected at #1.
But it’s actually the right move.
When you’re dealing with a dullard, they’re often a person who’s been shit on in various ways their whole life.
I had a taxi driver several weeks ago who took 15 minutes driving me three minutes to the gym (in his own hometown) and then didn’t understand why I didn’t want to stay there.
It was completely closed…that’s why. As I pointed out to him…three times.
At first, I thought he was trying to cheat me but later I realized he just had no common sense.
And had probably been treated like dirt by most people.
Try to stay positive when dealing with folks who aren’t the brightest bulbs.
They will sense that you believe in them and want to have a positive interaction and respond by actually trying to understand things better.
2) Help them see solutions
Common sense is about solutions.
Those who lack common sense are often confused, overwhelmed people.
They just don’t put the connections together between A and B the way the rest of us do.
Helping them to see solutions can be a way to cause them to become a person with more common sense.
Having said that, I fully get that some people just literally have no common sense.
I saw a video last week of a woman trying to inflate her car tires with a fire extinguisher.
Another factor that I believe is actually leading to less common sense is over-Googling.
People are so reliant on Googling the answers to things that they fail to notice what’s right in front of their faces.
Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to point out the obvious to them and help turn them into living, functioning humans.
3) Get them to think longer-term
One of the most common reasons that some people lack common sense is that they’re trapped in short-term thinking.
They eat what they want when they want, sleep with who they want when they want, indulge every appetite when they want and work…when they want.
They don’t have common sense because they only think of the short term.
Even when life hands them obesity, STDs, or being fired from their job in response to their lack of common sense they quickly forget the lesson.
“It is also common sense to say that eating a diet of unhealthy takeout and fast food is highly likely to have negative consequences for your health later in life, but some people do it.”
The best way to deal with these people is to help them think longer-term.
Those who are quite epicurean will expect you to be criticizing them from a moral level.
Once they realize you’re doing so more from a logic level their interest may be piqued.
Yes, you could buy a $30,000 motorbike to drive around Colombia, but you could also invest it in real estate and have $70,000 in five years.
Yes, you could wolf down four hamburgers every night at 2 a.m. and turn into an obese pig, but you could also abstain and feel much better about yourself and attract a beautiful mate.
Get people to think five years down the road!
4) Get them to act in their own best interest
One of the best tips to dealing with someone with no common sense is to show them how common sense is in their own best interest.
They may associate doing things the right way with being nagged as a kid or annoying, confusing rules with no rhyme or reason.
Try to point out that many common rules of life are simply logical.
If you have a friend who is an experienced accountant and want to try remodeling their basement with zero construction experience, for example, point out that it may be a better use of their time to hire a professional.
Indeed, they are likely to earn more if they do their own job and hire someone else rather than wasting months half-assing it on a project they aren’t familiar with.
Examples of ignoring our own safety, wellbeing, and interests are common, even among otherwise smart people.
The YouTube channel Get Better Together explains, one of the most common ways that many people don’t have common sense is ignoring our own safety such as not buckling our seatbelt when we go for a short drive.
Like the narrator says:
“Seatbelts will save your life. Among drivers and front seat passengers, seatbelts reduce the risk of death by 45% and cut the risk of serious injury by 50%.
A seatbelt is going to prevent you from being ejected during a crash. Seatbelts save thousands of lives each year.”
5) Connect to their interests
One of the top tips to dealing with someone with no common sense is to get them to do logical things by connecting it to their interests.
Nerds, sports fanatics, artistic types, and many others seem to have their heads in the clouds on certain common sense issues.
But when you connect it to what they care about you’ll be surprised at how quickly things turn around.
An example would be if you’re sharing a bathroom with roommates and none of them ever change the toilet paper roll to put a new one in when the old roll is gone.
First of all, that’s just shitty behavior (hopefully not literally).
But if you can contain your anger, try to connect to their interests.
Maybe one of your roommates is an architect. Start talking to him about his desire to build the next Empire State Building and then drop a hint like:
“Can you imagine if they hadn’t build enough bathrooms in the Empire State Building and everyone ate bad enchiladas on the same day?
You’d definitely need a lot of toilet paper.”
Hopefully, he’ll get the message.
6) Make consequences clear
Sometimes the clearest tips to dealing with someone with no common sense are the simplest.
In this tip, I advise you to sometimes just straight up tell somebody that they’re screwing up and that it’s going to go badly for them if they continue.
For example, say you’re working in a shipping warehouse with a lady who never bothers properly labeling boxes and tosses them carelessly, for example, you should point out the consequences of this behavior:
Firstly, she could easily lose her job.
Secondly, it could damage people’s products they’re ordering or which your store is selling.
Thirdly, when boxes don’t get labeled it just makes her own job harder and makes all of her fellow employees hate her.
If she doesn’t have common sense, she may not have even realized how much this behavior is pissing people off or about what could happen because of her attitude.
So tell her.
7) Go a bit hard on them
Following up on the last point, sometimes it’s a bit necessary to be sort of hard on people with no common sense.
However, there’s a right and a wrong way to do this.
The wrong way is to personally insult them, mock them and make it personal.
The right way is to criticize the actual action or lack of action they are taking.
It certainly could be that they’re just not cut out for the activity or job that’s not working out.
But it could also be that they grew up with lax rules and never really learned to watch what they’re doing and have common sense.
This is where being a bit harsher and telling someone directly that their behavior is not working and that there is a better way to do something is 100% acceptable and effective.
Just don’t make it personal or some moral judgment.
8) Emotional common sense matters
As user Anatomy Guy observes in this Reddit thread, sometimes very smart people like doctors are incredibly stupid socially, with a terrible bedside manner and no understanding of treating people’s emotions carefully.
“I guess people are just surprised that really intelligent people don’t have above average social skills, and in fact some are downright socially stupid.”
Consider this your warning:
Don’t be surprised when a professional or smart person lacks all emotional common sense and doesn’t understand social boundaries.
I’ve met CEOs of Fortune 500 companies who get shy around girls and make them feel awkward.
I reported on a campaign rally by a world-renowned neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson in the 2015 New Hampshire primary where he confused and embarrassed the crowd with his meandering speech that some people in attendance wondered whether his run was a practical joke of some kind.
In the end, his wife Candy had to come up and bail him out, trying to string together his vague sentence fragments about “American exceptionalism” and “socialism.”
Intelligence and common sense aren’t always the same, and very smart people can behave in clueless ways.
9) Take a look at their roots
As YouTuber Xandria Ooi points out here, “what your parents did or didn’t teach you” is one of the main factors in whether you have common sense.
When dealing with someone with no common sense, try to get info on what made them that way. This will give you greater empathy, but it can also give you tools to fix the situation.
For example, if you have a work colleague who constantly talks to you and others even though you’re clearly wearing headphones and busy, try to get to know them a bit.
You may find out they grew up in a rambunctious family with eight siblings in a “loud” culture that considers interruption to be perfectly fine.
Let them know that you appreciate their friendliness but you work better when you can focus.
Their lack of common sense may begin to be exposed as more of a culture clash or misunderstanding and everyone will be better for having resolved it.
10) Get them to simplify
Some smart people with no common sense overthink everything.
This is where it can be up to the more average among us, ironically, to help the ultra-smart folks downsize their brain gymnasium just a little…
When faced with a choice that’s actually simple but overthinking it, common sense folks can be that voice of reason that lets them know there’s no big deal.
“So you want to go to Costa Rica or France but can’t decide which and your family is annoyed about it? Flip a coin! Both are great,” you can tell them, adding that their own indecision is part of what’s causing the family meltdown, not the choice between Aix-en-Provence or Alajuela.
The thing is that really smart people often miss really obvious social cues.
As Satoshi Kanazawa explains in his 2012 book The Intelligence Paradox: Why the Intelligent Choice Isn’t Always the Smart One:
“Intelligent people, however, have a tendency to overapply their analytical and logical reasoning abilities derived from their general intelligence incorrectly to such evolutionarily familiar domains and, as a result, get things wrong.”
11) Keep your anger in check
Another essential when dealing with folks without common sense is to do your best to keep your anger in check.
This is something I struggle with myself, and I say that as someone who also has big gaps in common sense at times.
Still, when I encounter a true, mind-boggling lack of common sense I find myself often becoming very judgmental and angry.
I am doing my best to begin working on that and calming down when met with such situations.
What about if a car blocks the pedestrian crossing when you’re trying to cross when they could easily have stayed on the other side of the light?
My advice is to somehow keep yourself from kicking their vehicle. Not because it’s wrong, but because it will probably end up costing you a lot of money and maybe even some time in jail (ask me about that sometime).
12) Outsource the conflict
This is a bit of a sneaky move, but it can sometimes work.
If you’re dealing with a dunce sometimes the best option is just to outsource it.
What I mean is that you get somebody else to deal with this person.
Say you’re at work in your job as a teacher and you’re assigned to co-teach with another individual who gets on your last nerve and has no common sense about how to deal with bratty children or stopping cell phone use.
In fact despite talking to them you can see that they are clueless and that the classroom is going to descend into total anarchy.
Instead of continuing to partner up with this person, make up a fake reason why you have to transfer jobs or roles.
This will avoid the “snitch” issue and will also ensure that you move on with the minimal drama.
Meanwhile, the school administration or someone else can deal with the fallout from the other person’s lack of common sense.
It may not be the most responsible option, but this list is about what works not just what’s “nice.”
13) Have some humility
All of us can do things that are incredibly stupid, notes vlogger Vixella in this hilarious video of people with no common sense.
When you approach people with no common sense like they are a different species they will just feel even more stupid.
And this tends to create a cycle of stupidity where they switch off their brain even more.
Some of us have more common sense than others, but even the most logical among us will sometimes have a day when we’re extra tired or out of it and do something that just makes no sense.
For this reason, one of the most important tips to dealing with someone with no common sense is to have some humility.
On a different day, you could be in their shoes.
14) Just do it for them
This may not be a popular option but in many cases, it’s simply the easiest.
One of my tips for dealing with someone with no common sense is to just do it for them.
If they can’t figure out how to left-click a file and open it, or how to mop or any other common thing, you just take over and get the job done.
This has the advantage of skipping all the anger and frustration as well as saving time.
The downside is that they may feel disrespected and that the individual with no common sense will still be way down where they started because you just did it for them.
Examples, where this won’t work, are obvious:
If everyone rushes to get off a plane once it lands and that leads to 20 minutes longer disembarking there’s not a ton you can do except getting really pissed off at the other passengers (which I wouldn’t recommend).
If your friend keeps texting while driving and you tell him or her not to and cite crash statistics 100 times then eventually you’ll probably just have to decline any further rides with them.
And so on.
15) Know your limit
Casinos have a saying that applies here:
“Know your limit, play within it.”
When dealing with people who truly lack common sense to the point of seeming severely hungover (which they just might be) you need to know when to walk away.
Time is valuable, and if your job isn’t being a remedial social worker then you need to decide the point at which you say “have a great day” and walk away.
This doesn’t have to be a big dramatic scene or personal judgment on your part.
And sometimes if it’s family or a coworker you’re dealing with “walking away” might just mean taking a break from them in another room.
But it’s entirely your right to have boundaries that you won’t let others cross and limits on how much time you’ll allow to be wasted by pure stupidity.
Becoming a common sensei
In martial arts, sensei is the honorable title for your teacher.
The sensei is an individual you respect and look up to who guides you in the physical, mental and emotional aspects of martial arts.
In the hit show Cobra Kai, senseis are guys reliving their high school glory days while dating your mom or processing their deeply-held PTSD by twisting the minds of young karate students – but let’s leave that aside for the moment.
I mean sensei in the positive sense here!
If you are dealing with someone with no common sense then your best option is to become what I call a “common sensei.”
Think of yourself as a calm, spiritually stable person who tells simple truths and guides the lost sheep.
You dispense and teach common sense effortlessly, and with no ego involved.
You just tell it like it is and help guide those poor souls born without common sense.
Becoming a common sensei is rewarding because it’s not about you or your ego.
It’s just about making the world a more common sense place.
And that’s a great thing for all of us.