Posted on August 25, 2009

Recently in a legal document I encountered a section titled “Reasonableness”. It read as follows: “Wherever a written consent from a Unit Holder is required it shall not be unreasonably withheld.”

That struck me as wholly subjective and therefore rather unusual in a legal document. The sentiment is admirable, surely. Be reasonable, sign this document. But how can we possibly know that what is reasonable to us is reasonable to others? If you think about it carefully, reasonableness must be the most subjective of terms. The Oxford English Dictionary describes it thus: “The quality of being reasonable or rational; rationality or the fact or quality of being amenable to reason, or of acting or thinking in a sensible manner.”

What is the point of this? Well, reasonableness can be contentious in a workplace or team environment. After all, what is a perfectly reasonable work request or directive to you might be considered completely irrational by someone else. What you think is a reasonable response to a work request or directive also depends very much on the ear of the beholder. That is to say unless you take the trouble of providing context and define what you consider reasonable, sensible and rational. Otherwise, you might be in for a surprise. We cannot assume that our reasonableness is universal. What is perfectly rational and sensible in one team, is frowned upon in another. What is reasonable in one culture is irrational in another. Workplaces are no exception.

Intelligent disobedience involves expressing your best ideas, AND encouraging the expression of the best ideas of others to gain the greatest level of understanding. Those who embrace intelligent disobedience would not stop at the mediocre level of understanding represented by ”reasonableness”, but would engage in the discussions required to reach a deeper more substantial position, and provide a more optimal bit of direction.

– Contributed by Marjolein Towler

Intelligent Disobedience Leadership provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership through intelligent disobedience. We can help you and your teams design a community of practice which leverages constructive “intelligent disobedience.” For further information, email us at