The Insane Dude Problem

This subject was covered in Leadership Minute #9 – The Insane Dude Problem. This phenomenon is extremely common. You see it in divorce cases all the time. It happens when it’s too hard (or inconvenient) to understand someone else’s perspective, so a person gets labeled as “insane”. When a “sane” person describes the “insane” person’s behavior or perspective, they are often seeking affirmation from the listener. The reality is that this is generally a cop-out. According to the National Institute of Mental Health in 2006, about 1.1% of the US population had schizophrenia. So, sorry, your coworker is very likely sane; statistically, schizophrenics don’t work at your company.

What’s really going on is that that the accuser has given up on understanding the perspective of the supposedly insane person. There may be motivations on both sides, but for now we’ll focus on the “insane” person. The common reasons this might occur are that the insane person:

  • Is a poor communicator
  • Has a different set of facts than others
  • Is trying to hide fear or an objective that would not be acceptable to others


This HBR article, Rethinking Trust, by Roderick Kramer, is a great read regarding trust. The reason it’s relevant here is that improving trust can help with all of the above issues. It talks about a number of things, but most importantly for the insane dude problem, you can gain trust of the other party by trusting them and being empathetic. If the dude is hiding information because of fear, improving trust will get them to disclose reality. If he is failing to communicate (or you are), simply talking more may eventually uncover a difference in factual understanding; if two people differ on the facts they will almost surely differ on the solution, and sometimes a person’s chosen solution is what earns them the “insane” moniker.

So, dig in. Listen well, repeat what you heard for understanding, share stories from your experience that shows that you understand and empathize. If he has a hidden objective, that might never come out overtly. You can ask directly why he has certain opinions or prefers certain solutions over the “sane ones” you and your colleagues devised. Hopefully, if it is subversive, it’s not pervasive in your organization. If it’s localized, he’s probably not insane, just insanely selfish.

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