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Reasonable Person Principle

By: Chris Barnes



In any group of people, whether it is family members, close friends, or business colleagues, misunderstandings and disagreements are sure to occur. Handling these situations can be very delicate, balancing so many people in such tight quarters. A good solution that contributes toward an open corporate culture is the Reasonable Person Principle.

The Reasonable Person Principle was first formulated by the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University as a code to govern access to the university’s computer network. With thousands of students, faculty, and staff online, they needed a way to ensure trust and build a stable, functioning environment for everyone to participate in.

The Reasonable Person Principle has four core elements:
1. Everyone will be reasonable.
2. Everyone expects everyone else to be reasonable.
3. No one is special.
4. Do not be offended if someone suggests you are not being reasonable.

An open culture requires trust—and the Reasonable Person Principle is a great expression of trust. Simply put, everyone gets the benefit of the doubt that the things they say and do are in good faith. It’s assumed everyone is doing things for a reason.So how do you handle disagreements and misunderstandings under the Reasonable Person Principle? For starters, you don’t accuse the other person of behaving irrationally, or go immediately on the attack. Instead of assuming the other person isn’t thinking, assume that they have reasons for what they do, even if you don’t see or understand them. Then, in a calm, rational atmosphere, each party should ask questions and discuss why they did what they did.

What you’ll usually find is that there is, indeed, a reasonable explanation for what happened. Not everyone will agree on what to do in every situation, but team members should trust each other to act with the best interests of the organization at heart. The Reasonable Person Principle is not only designed to defuse conflicts, but ultimately to prevent them by building that trust. With trust comes support, and those are fundamentals to a strong, open corporate culture.

Published: December 20, 2012

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Chris Barnes

Chris Barnes is the Director of Business Development at Tarkenton Companies, with a sales and marketing background in a wide range of industries, from sports information to insurance marketing. A jack-of-all-trades, Chris has experience in many aspects of daily and strategic operations for small business.

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