Meet the Saboteur: Hyper-Rational

Written by Darren Kanthal

May 19, 2021

Let me paint a picture for you and see if it resonates. You’re in the middle of an intense conversation with your [partner/child/colleague] and tensions are running a little high. The two are you are not on the same page. Your points are clear and well thought-out (of course they are, right? When are you not well thought-out…), but the more you talk, the more worked up your conversation partner becomes and you don’t understand why they just can’t listen to you. Then…what’s this?! Tears?! “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Your conversation partner dissolves before your very eyes, and you check out.

If you prefer rational thinking and would rather emotions stay the heck away, you might be in the presence of what the PQ world calls a Hyper-Rational Saboteur. In the example above, the tears could be replaced with a multitude of emotions or ‘emotional’ reactions: withdrawing, screaming and yelling, telling you they’re hurt. Or worst of all to the Hyper-Rational, explaining how your actions affected their emotions. UGH!!! Emotions simply get in the way of rational discussions, considerations, and outcomes. Emotions cloud judgement. Emotions can lead to hysteria. Oye Ve!!! You, with the Hyper-Rational Saboteur, may show emotions through the passion of your ideas and therefore you point and say “see! I have emotions!!” But to those not possessing our Hyper-Rational Saboteur, you may hear, “it’s not the same…”

The great thing about being rational is, well, it’s rational! It’s objective. It leaves emotions at the door. How can one go wrong making a ‘rational’ decision?! On the other hand, when was the last time you handled a situation of love and ALL the IR’rational’ emotions that come with it with the rational mind? When was the last time you consoled a crying child by rationalizing the silliness of being emotional because you stirred the pancake batter without them (this exact scene happened in my house on more than one occasion)? Trying to handle these types of situations with a purely rational approach, void of an emotional connection or understanding, may lead the other to think you’re cold, distant or arrogant.

But don’t worry, there’s hope.

As a fellow Sage being who happens to have the Hyper-Rational Saboteur, I’ve spent years trying to rationalize my way out of emotional situations. Sometimes it works, but many times it doesn’t! With this Hyper-Rational Saboteur, it’s easy to see emotions as a hindrance; they get in the way and waste time, and instead of focusing on the actual problem at hand, we’re busy trying to navigate your emotional obstacle course – don’t step here, or say that because if you do…. Look out!!!

Oftentimes, I find emotions to get in the way. But try as I might, telling the person I’m talking to having a completely blown out reaction (in MY opinion) NOT to react in such a way…doesn’t make anything better. Believe me, I’ve tried. As the saying goes ‘never in the history of calming down did anyone calm down from being told to calm down’. So rather than sit in judgement and make zero progress in the conversation, I figured it’d be more productive to take a deeper look into what was going on for me as I encountered emotion and why it made me so uncomfortable.

Emotions are at the core of our actions; they motivate action.

Emotions help us understand how we’re connected to a situation or outcome. They help us understand when we are open or closed, or when we blow off the handle and ignite emotional wildfires.


Emotions are an alert signal. That signal is meant to be explored, not immediately acted upon. I see a 3-pronged approach:

  1. Recognize and be aware of your emotional state and what you’re feeling (if you don’t have a strong emotional vocabulary, email me for a handy cheat sheet that’s been a game-changer for me:
  2. Sit in the emotion, as uncomfortable as it might be, for as long as necessary to answer some questions about why this emotion is coming up, what triggered it, how can you reconcile it. And before taking action….
  3. Think about how your response might be perceived before acting. Screaming and yelling at a crying child is probably not going to yield the outcome you’re hoping for and the same goes for your colleague, spouse, friends, family members, or even the ‘idiot’ in front of you at the grocery store.

I see myself and my clients with this nasty saboteur try to rationalize unavoidably emotional situations. It’s like yelling at a child for falling off their bike because they didn’t turn correctly instead of recognizing they’re hurting and learning a new skill they aren’t confident in yet. It’s chastising a co-worker for making a mistake on a project without recognizing they are very likely beating themselves up for the same mistake and could benefit more from compassion and empathy.

Teaching your Hyper-Rational Saboteur to cool it and allowing your Sage to make space for emotion (yours and others’) takes patience, concentration, and practice. It won’t come easily at first, but soon you’ll recognize your emotional alert signals and take them for what they are, rather than shutting down or escalating further. And if you want support, The Kanthal Group is here for you.

Darren Kanthal

Darren Kanthal, Founder of The Kanthal Group, is a values-driven leadership and career coach with over 20 years of experience in HR and Talent Acquisition. Darren is intensely passionate about helping mid-career leaders cut through the BS, do the foundational work, and achieve their greatness.

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