Decision Making Tool: Hanlon's Razor

Learn and practice using Hanlon's Razor with exercises.

What is Hanlon's Razor?

The concept in one sentence:

Negligence is more likely than malice.

The concept in one quote:

Misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The concept in one image:

How I use it?

When somebody does something that upsets me, remembering Hanlon's Razor helps me keep certain emotions in check—anger, bitterness, etc.


Examples

Example 1 - Likely

A friend says they’ll call you back but it’s been 2 days and they haven’t.

Which is more likely?

  1. They were busy and forgot to call back.

  2. They don’t want to talk to you.

Answer:

The correct answer is option 1.

I’m guilty of it…

Example 2 - Most to Least Likely

A coworker fails to give you an important report in time.

Rank the reasons below from most to least likely

  1. They are lazy.

  2. They want you to fail.

  3. They underestimated how long it would take to complete.

Answer:

The correct order is 3, 1, 2.

Just in case a coworker is trying to sabotage your career: Handle a sabotaging coworker.

Example 3 - Unlikely

Your child breaks an expensive plate.

Which reason is unlikely?

  1. The plate slipped from their hands.

  2. They wanted to make you upset.

  3. They accidentally knocked the plate off the table.

Answer:

The correct answer is option 2.

Raising a child is hard…


Exercises

Exercise 1 - Likely

Your boss is late for a meeting.

Which is more likely?

  1. They had to sort out something.

  2. They did it as a power move.

Exercise 2 - Unlikely

A nuclear power plant exploded.

Which reason is unlikely?

  1. Those in charge failed to account for a certain situation.

  2. Those in charge wanted the explosion to happen.

  3. Those in charge didn't assess the risks properly.

Exercise 3 - Likely

Imagine a black man trying to wash his hands in a restaurant's toilet, he notices that the sensor tap doesn't work for him. A few minutes later, someone of a different ethnicity uses it with ease.

Which is more likely?

  1. The restaurant dislikes his ethnicity, so they got "racist" sensor taps.

  2. The sensor is faulty or flawed.

Exercise 4 - Most to Least Likely

A newspaper keeps publishing negative stories.

Rank the reasons below from most to least likely

  1. They want to make you see the world as a dark place.

  2. They want to get your attention.

  3. They want to manipulate your emotions.

Exercise 5 - Unlikely

Your dad forgot to wish you a happy birthday.

Which reason is unlikely?

  1. He had a busy day.

  2. He didn't pay attention to today's date.

  3. He doesn't care about you.

  4. He has trouble remembering birthdays.

Exercise 6 - Likely

Your favorite game has no server for African players.

Which is more likely?

  1. The gaming company doesn't want African gamers.

  2. The infrastructure isn't developed enough for an African server.

Exercise 7 - Most to Least Likely

You are speaking to someone new at a social event. They keep giving you short responses.

Rank the reasons below from most to least likely

  1. They lack communication skills.

  2. They don't like you.

  3. They are not in the mood to talk.

Exercise 8 - Likely

You didn't receive an email about a party at your company.

Which is more likely?

  1. Nobody at your company likes you.

  2. A mistake happened.

Exercise 9 - Unlikely

Your neighbor is making a lot of noise at night.

Which reason is unlikely?

  1. They want to keep you awake.

  2. They are not aware of how much noise they are making.

  3. They are trying to find something.

Exercise 10 - Likely

You have applied for a job and haven’t heard back after a few days.

Which is more likely?

  1. They don't think you are worth responding to.

  2. They haven't had time to go through your application.


Answers

Exercise 1:

The correct answer is option 1.

For those that picked option 2 because of a personal experience, I'm sorry.

Exercise 2:

The correct answer is option 2.

Unless they were a group of criminal masterminds looking to cause harm or get insurance money, option 2 is unlikely.

Exercise 3:

The correct answer is option 2.

I'm pretty certain no company makes sensor taps for racist people.

Exercise 4:

The correct order is 2, 3, 1.

Welcome to the attention economy! Click here for a surprise!

Exercise 5:

The correct answer is option 3.

He cares, I hope.

Exercise 6:

The correct answer is option 2.

It's sad that in 2021, Africa still has electrical problems.

Exercise 7:

The correct order is 3, 1, 2.

Decision School subscribers are definitely likable.

Exercise 8:

The correct answer is option 2.

Sadly, mistakes do happen.

Exercise 9:

The correct answer is option 1.

Hopefully, you have good neighbors.

Exercise 10:

The correct answer is option 2.

You're worth it.


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