Many are familiar with the frustration of having a difficult roommate. When living with someone who can’t bother to do their dishes, take the trash out, or be quiet in the wee hours of the morning, it’s easy to become frustrated. You might start to believe your roommate is intentionally negligent, has a bad personality, or maybe they’re trying to rile you up.
In situations like this, it’s important to step back and consider a few things. Does your roommate have a reason to dislike you? Do they have a track record of being malicious to others? If not, maybe they just don’t realize how irritating their actions are, or they simply don’t have dishes high on their priority list. Maybe they never had to take out the trash growing up. Maybe they don’t realize how loud their midnight phone conversations are. Have you communicated your frustration effectively with them, or have you assumed that they already know how inconsiderate their actions are? If you haven’t communicated your frustration, their inconsiderate actions may be partially explained not by a simple lack of awareness.
Making these kinds of considerations is a way of applying Hanlon’s Razor, a heuristic device that tells us not to assume malicious intent behind actions when a lack of awareness or knowledge can adequately explain the actions. Douglas W. Hubbard succinctly states the principle as such:
“Never attribute to malice or stupidity that which can be explained by moderately rational individuals following incentives in a complex system of interactions.3”
It is easy to assume that the hurtful actions of others are intentionally designed to harm us, particularly since we are prone to cognitive biases such as the spotlight effect and the affect heuristic. In many cases, the other people in our lives may simply not possess the awareness or knowledge to understand the impact of their actions. Acknowledging the information asymmetry can help us to communicate better and improve our relationships – with our friends, co-workers, partners, and yes, your annoying roommate.