Can You Be Too Logical?

By Lilian Abrams, Ph.D., MBA, MCC, ESIA. Corporate America tends to expect, and even prize, logic. So where and how do emotions, goals, agendas, etc. (e.g. “politics”) fit in? In other words, what do we do when these non-logical aspects arise, and contradict our logical expectations? What do we do when we expect simple, straightforward, logical behavior, purely meant to further the group’s goals — and we don’t get it?  

My client, Cindy, is a wonderful colleague and team leader. She’s smart, pleasant, knowledgeable, helpful, caring, respected, thoughtful, reliable, and low-key. Along with all these positive qualities, she embodies both logical thinking and service to others.  

In larger meetings, therefore, her style tends to be attentive but low-key. Cindy is naturally reserved, factual, and answers questions exactly to the point, about the point which they concern. She is always clear on serving the meeting’s objective and agenda, and usually speaks only after she has assessed others’ presented facts, and absorbed their information and views. She hangs back thoughtfully — only after listening carefully to what others have put forth, does she herself ask a penetrating question or offer a summary that advances the conversation to its next level.

What could be the problem?

Ironically, it is Cindy’s logical, service-oriented style that is getting in the way of her desire to advance to higher, broader positions of responsibility.

At Cindy’s organization, senior leaders typically have been there a long time. The culture strongly values relationships, and external hires tend not to survive or thrive. Cindy has been part of this organization for about 2 years, and her boss, Joanne, values her and wants her to succeed. A long-timer herself, Joanne deeply understands the culture, but she can’t always articulate exactly what Cindy needs to do differently to be more successful than she has been. She has tried to explain it to Cindy, but Cindy has never really understood what Joanne meant.  

After doing multiple interviews on Cindy’s behalf, including with the CHRO, I began to understand exactly what Cindy was missing.  

What Joanne, the CHRO, and everyone else wanted to know was more about who Cindy was, both as a person and a leader. In this relationship-oriented culture, people wanted to feel safe with each other. Not knowing Cindy well, others therefore wanted to hear more about what Cindy’s views and opinions were on things, first, before they offered their own. They wanted to get a sense of her, and feel they could trust her. Unfortunately, her reserved, service-oriented public style was not allowing people to get to know her quickly, or at all, depending how much time they had with her. Her very humility and service-orientation was leading some key long-timers to fail to get sufficient information from her, which did not allow them to learn to trust her in the ways they have wanted to.

Once I understood this on Cindy’s behalf, I could begin to help her understand what others wanted from her and make efforts to provide it. For example, she began increasing the amount of information she volunteered about herself. She made more effort to speak up about her own views, more quickly, in larger and more public forums. She also worked harder to reach out to others more strategically across the organization. She even began to display more facial animation! All of this gained Cindy greater exposure and better relationships in her company, and helped her gain access to the new opportunities she wanted.

For more about building relationships, communication, and developing your leadership skills, schedule a consultation with Lilian.