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Hanlon’s razor: the brain behavior that could be the answer to a peaceful divorce.


Ever feel like absolutely everyone is out to get you?

Your new colleague is a bit short with you during your morning meeting, so you assume they don't like you very much.

The woman in the grocery store almost knocks you over in her hurry to get to the checkout. What is her problem?

Your kid yells at you the minute they get home from school — you just can't figure out why they're so determined to make your life a misery.

But what if none of that was about you?

In all likelihood, none of it was. Your new colleague is super shy, so sometimes she comes across as a bit awkward. The lady in the grocery store was in a huge rush to pick up some groceries for her friend who's just had chemo. And your kid being in a mood (again!) is nothing more than the result of all those pesky teenage hormones.

In other words, it's nothing personal.

But you're not alone in feeling like it is. After all, we're all the stars of our own lives; we forget that the supporting characters around us have lives, worries, problems, and hormones of their own! Their behavior is a reflection on what's going on in their own lives, rather than an indication of how they feel about us.

The unfortunate thing is that the more stressed and worried we are, the more likely we are to attribute malice to the behavior of colleagues, friends, neighbors…and partners. Even when none was intended.

Confirmation bias at play.

Which is one of the reasons divorce is such a minefield. You may remember the principle of confirmation bias that we explored a few weeks ago. In a nutshell, it's about cherry-picking information to support our beliefs. So when you're in conflict with someone — like your spouse — and you feel that they're inconsiderate, lazy, mean or controlling, your brain will actively seek "evidence" in their behavior that proves they are, in fact, all of those things.

In reality, some of your spouse's behavior could be attributed to a number of other reasons like fear, anxiety, or misunderstanding, but when you add a thick layer of divorce-related stress to the equation, it's easy to see why you're likely to take things personally.

Enter Hanlon's razor.

So far, most of the psychological principles we've been exploring are out to get you! Left to their own devices, the likes of reactive devaluation and confirmation bias will make your life — and your divorce — far harder than they need to be.

But this week, we're exploring a psychological principle that, if used correctly, will help smooth the path to the peaceful divorce you're hoping for.

The benefit of the doubt.

Hanlon's razor is the antidote to confirmation bias and the belief that the "world is out to get you". It's about taking a step back and challenging yourself to reinterpret the behavior of others. To take yourself out of the equation and look at other reasons why someone might have acted in the way they did. To assume that their actions are driven by worry, or shyness, or tiredness, or stress rather than any malice directed at you. It's about switching from judgment to empathy.

Really, it's about giving people the benefit of the doubt.

Hanlon's razor: putting it into practice.

Of course, knowing the theory of Hanlon's razor is one thing; putting it into practice when you're dealing with the heightened tensions of divorce proceedings is another thing entirely. And many couples need an unbiased third party professional, like a trained mediator, to help them harness the power of Hanlon's razor.

Reframing the past.

In fact, a mediator can help unpick the reasons that have brought you to the mediation table in the first place. Perhaps the relationship breakdown is, in part, caused by misinterpretation of past behaviors. Using the principle Hanlon's razor, the mediator can help both parties reframe past events. When you realize that the behavior wasn't driven by malice, you can start to build a path towards understanding, or even forgiveness. All of which makes it easier to come to a peaceful settlement.

Moving forward.

Hanlon's razor can be vital for reframing current behaviors too. When your mediator recognizes confirmation bias at play, or suspects that either party is assuming malice where there is none, they can help you take a step back from any biases or assumptions and encourage a less judgmental, more charitable approach. For example, it may feel like your spouse is holding back financially purely to make life hard for you, but your mediator might help you realize that they're actually acting out of their own fear of not being able to make ends meet.

Naturally, in some cases certain behaviors will be driven by malice or ill-will, but whenever there is a more innocent explanation to be found, your mediator will help you find it. And when you're able to stand in your adversary's shoes, understand their point of view, and accept that they aren't necessarily "out to get you", you have a much stronger chance of finding a more peaceful resolution to your conflict.

If you'd like some more detailed advice about your specific situation, I'd be happy to help. Schedule an appointment today. 

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Tuesday, 20 April 2021

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