The Reasonable Person Model (RPM)

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What is RPM?

The Reasonable Person Model (RPM) offers a way of seeing the world that improves how people understand themselves and the environments in which they live and work. This simple framework explains the basic needs all humans have to feel confident in their understanding, competent in their abilities, and purposeful in their contributions. RPM reveals what’s working, what’s not, and the steps toward creating a more supportive, rewarding environment where people can be their best.

RPM focuses on three domains of informational needs:

Model-Building is about our need to understand what’s going on and to be able to figure out what’s next. For example, RPM can provide insights into improving your volunteer or employee orientation or help a donor or funder better understand the essence of your work.

Being Effective addresses our need to feel like we’re capable of doing something, i.e., that we are competent, and that we have the physical and mental resources to execute. How can you help staff achieve better work/life balance, or think about how they can better apply themselves during each work day?

Meaningful Action speaks to our need to be part of something bigger than ourselves and to feel like our participation matters. RPM can help inform strategies that ensure your volunteers stay engaged or that your board steps up to the plate when you need them!

These domains overlap in many ways. Feeling competent and respected play into knowing our actions matter. By contrast, feeling helpless, confused and exhausted are challenges to getting things accomplished. A room with people who have a sense of what's going on and how they can contribute meaningfully can be energizing and generate excitement. RPM argues that bringing out the best in people is more likely when their environment supports exploration and understanding, facilitates competence and a clear head, and enables doing something that matters.

How can RPM be relevant to everyone?

The Reasonable Person Model gets to the core of how people function best. There are three simple needs that must be met in any environment, be it personal or professional for people to be reasonable. These three core needs are based on information provided by the environment and are the building blocks of RPM. They are about having:

1)    shared mental models that support understanding (Model-building),

2)    the resources and energy to be clearheaded and effective (Being Effective) and,

3)    a sense that what you do matters to you and others (Meaningful Action).

These are needs all people have in order to feel fulfilled, motivated, and joyfully engaged in what they are doing. RPM helps us figure out how to incorporate this realization into our day-to-day to make it easier to get our needs met and be healthier and happier, too.

Clarity is essential to reasonableness.

Simply put, human beings hate being confused. Have you noticed? When people don’t have clarity about what is expected of them or what is going on around them, they feel uncomfortable and maybe even a bit frustrated or angry. Interpreting the world around us is something we do all the time, and when we don’t have enough information to form a clear picture – or mental model – of the environment we are in and what role we play in it, we cannot be our best. Having a shared vision that supports understanding, exploration, and engagement is essential to creating a supportive, productive environment where people can be their best.

RPM makes it easier to say what we need.

We stand a much better chance of getting our needs met when we understand what our needs actually are and can easily express them to others. RPM helps define what it is about our environment or the way we’re engaging in it that either supports or depletes us in terms of the information that is available to us.

Understanding what information we truly need helps clarify why we are feeling confused, frustrated, or unmotivated and what is required to feel clearheaded, calm, and inspired. Referencing the three domains of RPM – Model-building, Being Effective, and Meaningful Action – provides a common language that helps RPM clearly and objectively communicate what’s working and what isn’t so others can understand, empathize, and respond appropriately. This allows us to look to the environment for solutions instead of spending time and energy pointing fingers at each other.

RPM supports greater awareness and well-being.

We have to feel good in order to give our best, but so often people push past their limits only to become fatigued, frustrated, and distracted. A major tenet of RPM is that all of us humans are limited in our ability to focus our attention and energy consistently. No matter how well rested or nourished, or how interested and engaged we are, we will fatigue throughout the day. Honoring this limited human capacity goes a long way toward fostering reasonableness. We must provide ourselves with opportunities to rest and recharge in short bursts so we can return to our work with renewed energy, creativity, and perspective. RPM supports this need for breaks throughout the day as a significant step toward creating a supportive and productive environment.

Why is RPM effective?

RPM supports individual and organizational change that’s actually achievable and, well, reasonable. Few habits or processes are changed overnight. RPM encourages taking small, measurable steps forward in an experimental approach that provides an opportunity to adjust the course as you go and adapt and grow as a team. More effective and long-lasting change is possible this way and doesn’t have to be disruptive, costly, or time consuming. Working with the RPM framework often reveals simple solutions hidden in plain sight that support greater efficiency, productivity, and overall satisfaction. Additionally, RPM becomes infused into the workplace culture so it becomes easier to anticipate needs and address challenges that arise in the future.

Fostering Reasonableness: Environments for Bringing Out our Best provides a great introduction and many examples of RPM.