Archive for February, 2012

Conquer Nine Kinds of “Stinking Thinking”

February 20, 2012

Everyone uses psychological tactics to cope with the world. These attitudes and associated behaviors protect us from stress and strain. But, they can become traps which limit us and keep us “stuck.” Self awareness is an important antidote. It is a vital, conscious step towards learning and growth.

In Affluence Intelligence, the authors focus on balance and fulfillment. They also identify common human defenses that can be impediments to success. This list, I think, comes to work with us and our colleagues every day.

False Stories  Overburdened, martyr, victim, too smart to learn, more special or deserving than others?These are some of the stories we tell ourselves. This negative self-talk that is destructive. Believing these stories can cost us. It is a kind of thinking that takes a partial truth, makes it the whole truth and becomes a false image.

Magical Thinking  In contrast to taking active responsibility for actions, this defense is waiting for Someone to “fix” what’s wrong or missing. It takes optimistic thinking to the extreme. While dreaming and idealizing are natural it’s not a good idea to routinely swap reality for fantasy.

Grasping When we look outside ourselves to a thing, person, event or activity to make them content or feel complete, this is grasping. Unfortunately, this defense can become a never-ending cycle that ensures discontent. Buddhists have advice in this realm. They suggest working on an “egoless” mind.

Spacing Out  Simply, put it is disassociation. This is a type of repressive defense. It happens when we face anxiety and skip past it. If we can put away something that’s uncomfortable then we forget about it – temporarily.

Denial  Pushing feelings away may be necessary sometimes. It can help us do what must be done now so we aren’t overwhelmed. But, it’s not helpful if it’s a constant reply to life. Acknowledging a situation, facing reality and taking action is very often the best course.

Avoidance  This is a more conscious choice than denial. For example, I know I need to talk with my aging parent about her healthcare provider, but I don’t want the emotional confrontation it will bring. So, I don’t.

Splitting  This is when we pursue all or nothing thinking. It can protect us by making someone or something else take all the blame. It excludes our role and populates the world with heroes and villains. Considering our own deficiencies and contributions is important in any situation. It requires integration and maturity to see complexities and shades of gray in relationships.

Personal History  A sense of ourselves is based on the sum of our personal experiences. The power of habit may tempt us to define ourselves by a history that is familiar and negative. For example, if you had a childhood that was difficult and fearful, you choose to continue or discontinue those feelings as an adult. In part, this is why people abused as children may become child abusers. Unconsciously repeating past experiences and feelings is common.

Projection  When you are consistently uncomfortable about something in yourself and cite criticisms of others about that behavior you are projecting. It is finger-pointing that really translates to our own anxiety, sense of scarcity or fears.

Certainly, real external events in our lives and work have an impact on us. Handling those events is key to effectiveness. Defenses can have a payoff and a price. To  manage others well – we have to  manage ourselves. Spend time reflecting and seek feedback to garner self knowledge. Are you clear about what you’re doing and why?

Consider the preceding list and think about patterns in your own responses and others. Make an action plan to minimize defenses and maximize your personal growth.  So that the knowledge, skills and experience of others  can flourish think carefully about how you can assist each of them get past “stinking thinking.”

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See :

Safe & Sound At Work

February 5, 2012

This photo displays the  teamwork that’s essential  to complete a tough job.

Would you risk your life with people at work?

Perhaps more relevant: Is trust or fear most prevalent in your workplace? Are there non-stop “plays” about whose influence will prevail and who you will support?

Safety is a vital issue and key to culture in our organizations. The “safety” I reference has little to do with Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. It has everything to do with integrity and accountability. About a year ago I read a great interview with Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks. He talked about one management principle he relies on and its benefits. The principle is intellectual honesty.

Less Politics

Orr has intentionally built a culture which yields a competitive advantage for his organization. This CEO stomps on politics at work. Politics are practically about who gets what. A classic definition is “the acquisition of power.”

Orr considers politics  a distraction that requires great energy to perpetuate and manage. He is very aware of human nature and says politics precludes focus. Without accountability, the challenges of any enterprise can easily be translated to ego that involves defending roles, “territory,” statements or actions.

He insists on (and models) behavior which supports  far more vital concerns. Simply put and publicly stated: “less politics.” Politics, according to Orr, are about ego and defending positions – when humility and exploration that ensures learning serves both relationships and results far better. He “breaks up potential blocks of ice that may become icebergs” in his organization.  Instead, pressure is on clear, crisp expectations and measureable milestones.

Banished Inhibitions

So, what’s his action recipe?  Orr encourages plenty of feedback to preclude any inhibitions about sharing perspective and authentic contributions . He seeks unfiltered and active comment about how he (and others) manage. It is safe for employees to speak up, to contribute and to challenge.

He also freely provides candid, private guidance to employees.  So that staff know energy and attention is on the issue – not the person – emails may include sections that indicate: “start of intellectual honesty moment” and close with “end moment.” Orr tells people to avoid “digging in” on their perspective.

Although individuals are held accountable, far better decisions get made when multiple views get aired and rational criterion applied. An environment that prizes intellectual honesty allows this to happen. It feels safe. It also enables reflection as a routine habit so that both learning and progress occurs. Without the discipline of candor, parallel drama about who’s up and who’s down is fostered and the real work can’t get much attention.

People Trip Sometimes

Recently, the news carried a big story about a cruise ship running aground. “I tripped and fell in the lifeboat,” said the Italian captain who departed a sinking ship prematurely. Obviously, fear and chaos can influence judgment. In this case, the captain probably thought an honest response was too risky. But, his manufactured retort simply garnered more scorn.

All of us are momentarily “stupid” – sometimes. Judgment lapses and in time we feel foolish about a bad choice. The critical issue is how we act next. Disclosure that acknowledges the error, whether caused by emotion, pressure or some other factor, shows humanity. It can endear you to others and build strong bonds.

Seek Mind-Share

Creating a safe culture means there is authentic trust, interdependence and accountability. It is an indicator of a sound organization. The world and our work is so complex we must engage mind-share and commitment at work – not simply time. Leaders who manage well set the example of intellectual honesty. This provides the conditions for people, organizations and communities to soar.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See :

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