My friend, Claudia, and I were talking about her new business idea to open a digital marketing agency for LGBTQ+ businesses. Claudia was super excited about bringing her creativity and personal story into a new career.

But despite her excitement I could sense that something was wrong. After a couple of moments, Claudia looked up from the table and said, “I don’t want to share my idea with Julia because I know that she’ll be a wet blanket on my excitement.”

Julia is Claudia’s wife of 10 years. They have a loving, supportive relationship, except when it comes to taking big leaps. 

Claudia’s nascent business idea was resting on vision and passion—as do most new business ideas. She would soon get to the details of how to make it happen, but for now she was enjoying being more excited about her work than she’d been in years.   

The Rational Thinker

The problem was that Claudia needed Julia’s emotional support if she was going to jump in 100%. And she knew Julia would immediately ask questions like “How do you make money? How do you find clients? What is the legal structure?”

These are important questions, for sure, but Claudia knew Julia would never get behind her idea unless she could prove the rock-solid business case. For Claudia, that was a wet blanket on her passion. She felt discouraged just thinking about talking to Julia. 

Julia is revered for her rational thinking. It has helped her excel in her career as a business strategist. She prides herself on being the most rational thinking person in the room. 

The Dark Side of the Hyper-Rational

Unfortunately, Julia’s rationality can often tip into the realm of hyper-rationality. In this case, Julia can’t see past the need for facts and specifics to recognize that Claudia is asking her for emotional support. Claudia wants Julia to tell her that she believes in her, even if she doesn’t yet understand the details.

This makes Claudia want to close the door and not talk to Julia about this important development in her life. It inserts a wedge between them.

When is rationality a strength and at what point does it turn into hyper-rationality and become a weakness?

Rational thinkers have many admirable strengths. They are capable of deep insight and often develop extensive expertise in an area of knowledge. They make great explorers and inventors because they tend to be very observant and perceptive. 

However, when rationality is taken too far it starts to counteract the strengths and bring out the weaknesses of the hyper-rational. 

People who have hyper-rational tendencies have an intense and exclusive focus on the rational processing of everything, including relationships. They thrive on skepticism and debate, often at the expense of others’ feelings and they can miss the big picture because they are laser-focused on understanding the details. Hyper-rational people can become easily frustrated with emotions. 

A conversation with someone with hyper-rational tendencies can make you feel like you aren’t being heard and seen, and, because you can’t keep up with the intensely rational argument, you may feel less intelligent and like your ideas fall short. This can crush creativity and innovation, especially in the ideation stage. And, as is seen with Claudia and Julia, it can damage personal relationships.

Working and Living With a Hyper-Rational Thinker

So, how can you intercept and counteract someone who is being hyper-rational? The first step is to understand why they use hyper-rationality. 

Commonly, the person with hyper-rational tendencies believes that they have to be the smartest person in the room in order to feel important. They often don’t see that their intense focus on facts and disregard for emotions can discourage and belittle people. 

With this understanding, try stating clearly that while you appreciate their analysis of the facts, emotions play an important role in how we process information and come up with new ideas. Ask if they can put the facts aside for a while and help you explore how you feel about an idea. Rationality focuses on the use of the brain while emotions are felt in the body. Try feeling an idea instead of thinking about it and see what comes up.