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Pat’s son had been transferred from Hawaii to Chicago for a new position in his company. To get his home sold, he was interviewing Realtors to do the job for him.  He had interviewed two.  Pat asked my help in deciding which one was the better choice.

I had done consulting for Pat before and she was confident that I could help work out this dilemma.  I told her that I wasn’t a Realtor so didn’t know if I could help, but she sent me the materials both Realtors had given to her son. When I looked at the materials, I knew what the problem was. Neither was acceptable.  It turns out this “choice” was a False Dilemma.

The False Dilemma fallacy, also known as the Either/Or Fallacy or Black and White Thinking, is where people believe that they have to choose between two options, and two options only.  In his book 76 Fallacies, Michael Labossiere described it

This line of “reasoning” is fallacious because if both claims could be false, then it cannot be inferred that one is true because the other is false.  That this is the case is made clear by the following example:

  1. Either 1+1=4 or 1+1=12.
  2. It is not the case that 1+1=4.
  3. Therefore 1+1=12. (76 Fallacies)

Of course, sometimes that reasoning must be true such as the case where “Joe is either alive or dead,” but it behooves us to think it through and if there is another or are other alternatives, we can avoid the False Dilemma.

Both employers and landlords can fall into the False Dilemma trap.  Two prospects apply for a job or an apartment and neither is acceptable according to company standards.  But since that’s all who have applied, the owner feels obligated to choose one or the other.

It can be difficult to decide that neither will work and reject both applications because that’s all there are and no more may ever show up—or even worse ones may.  But rejecting both breaks out of the false dilemma trap.

In good business times, it can sometimes be difficult to get acceptable applicants and businesses end up hiring and landlords end up renting to people they are less than sure about.

But the False Dilemma might be the result of our own doing. We all have standards we want to uphold in hiring and renting, but if we continually see applicants who don’t meet those standards, possibly the standards are not reasonable either for that job or that apartment.  In that case, a  reexamination of our standards may be warranted.

One way to examine the standards is to look at good or acceptable existing employees or tenants to see if all of them, using current standards, are people we would hire or rent to if they showed up today.  If they are people we would send on their way, possibly our current standards are not appropriate.  What to look at are where current employees or renters fail to meet those standards and examine if those standards may be requiring more than is reasonable for the position or the apartment.  For example, if asking for a credit score of at least 680 when the vast majority of employees and tenants are somewhere around 650, means that standard just might be cutting off your nose to spite your face. .

Of course, there are absolute requirements that every applicant must meet no matter what.  The first one is that you can verify everything on the application.  The second is that the application is completely filled out.  The third is that the applicant was completely truthful on the application.  That means that all previous addresses and employers, say in the last five years, are included in the appropriate spaces.  The fourth is that the applicant have appropriate picture ID.

After that, most other requirements are up for discussion. Every business is different and every rental property is different, so each has its own permutations and combinations for workable standards.

But back to the False Dilemma.  If after examining the current standards, you find them reasonable and workable, if your current employees or tenants would meet them, you are still usually not stuck with choosing one or the other applicant.  Keep looking.  And back to Pat,  I emailed her that I wouldn’t hire either of those Realtors and that there must be someone else who could do the job.  It turns out there was, and her son hired someone with considerable experience in selling property on the island and was extremely pleased with the results.

By Robert L. Cain

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