Posts Tagged ‘avoidance’

In Pursuit of Fearless

May 29, 2015

Rejection can generate resilience. And, resilience is an essential characteristic of effective people.


In Rejection Proof, Jia Jiang tackles this important issue, the very common fear of rejection. It’s an interesting psycho-social chronicle of his journey to  personal resilience. He distinguishes the vital necessity of allowing a rejection to take aim at ideas or requests but not self-worth. When we experience a setback, the trap we create is to internalize it as a personal failure. The reality is our idea was discarded.

Coping better with “no” requires new literacies in interpreting others. Jiang’s experiment shows it’s possible to shape a request for success; pick the right people and even convert an initial no to a different response. Social science and Jian’s personal journey found that rejection is mostly about the rejecter. The doubts, denial, avoidance, needs, panic and angst of your audience are primarily why most rejection happens. Recognition of and empathy for this can bolster your interpersonal skills.

Fitting In

Think about your teen years. Your peers (or tribe) were the overwhelming influence. Teens will do almost anything to fit in. At that stage, human beings are typically insecure. They lack identity, self-esteem, judgment, perspective and confidence. In error, we assume (because of age and experience) adults have conquered these concerns. The obvious implication is that capable manager-leaders must be self-aware while concurrently supporting others.

Why does inappropriate, unprofessional or rude treatment have such a deep impact? Exclusion or disrespect are a “slap in the face” that is processed by our brains the same as physical assault. The pain of rejection causes a chemical reaction in our brains. So, it comes as no surprise that people fear social rejection. Very often it is the fear of rejection that precludes any risk and deeply inhibits the potential for individual or social change.


Jiang’s book reminds us that timing matters. Too smart, too soon is the same as being wrong. An important way to think of rejection is simply as delay. George Bernard Shaw said “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” History provides countless examples of people persecuted or rejected for their thinking or actions. Later, we discover that the great ideas of good people faced an uphill climb because too many interests were upset or uncertainty was introduced.

Prevailing culture often resists interesting ideas, new strategies, fresh insights that diverse opinion and wise experience can contribute. Instead, a desperate, vigorous protection of control maintains the status quo. This is why change doesn’t happen. It helps explain why people, organizations and communities fail to make progress. It’s also why resilience is an important muscle to exercise!

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

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 :

Leadership for Great Culture

September 14, 2010

When Nelson Mandela and his colleagues secured hard-won positions of leadership he challenged “selfish thinking.” He suggested that “restraint and generosity” guide decisions and the use of power. We all know he offered wisdom and exemplary leadership in a very difficult and complex circumstance. When in power he did not make the mistake of ego: serving self. He was able to transcend this temptation and do the right thing for the common good. He surprised his opposition by rising above the self interests of his constituency to advocate reconciliation over revenge.

 Politics or Performance

Power is about the access to and use of resources. How power “plays” is a key dynamic in any organization. The norms and values that guide power define a leadership culture. In a healthy nonprofit organization, power is used for a specific change mission.  Capable leaders extend influence beyond the organization’s viability. They serve a vulnerable population or serious challenge to quality of life.  Regrettably, this isn’t always the agenda.   Dysfunctional leaders use their power for politics: control and self interest. If you’re willing to look, it is easy is to see whether a leadership culture is focused on politics or performance.

Denial, Avoidance, Blindness

The choice to look away from what exists is denial and avoidance. It happens when a leader  manages relationships and self interest rather than organizational performance.  When someone says, “You can talk to me – but I am not changing my mind.”  Although a  subtle difference, “inattention blindness” is  the  inability to see what’s right in front of us.  It happens when  the desperate circumstances of many become so common they are ignored. It happens when the leadership culture is all politics. When there is no rudder, no conscience, no accountability and lots of ego —anything  goes.

 I believe great leaders step past denial, avoidance, blindness. They face into the wind and are  accountable. They agree with Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, who recently said: “The truth is always hard to swallow, but it can only make us better, stronger, and smarter. That’s what accountability is all about — facing the truth and taking responsibility.”

 Power  as a Tool

Power  that focuses on domination  is oppressive in many ways. It can generate then perpetuate hardships and injustice.  It often  occurs by individuals and groups through gender, age, or racial affiliation. Far too often it occurs by people in jobs whose purpose is to serve. While some  may not find the courage to name it, many people are  offended and perplexed by the examples  these leaders offer. It can severely hamper organization performance. 

When Mandela assumed a recognized position, he  walked past  ego and challenged others about theirs.  He chose  mission over self-interest and competence over cronies.  His altitude didn’t influence his attitude or behavior. His example begs a  question: What surprise can you offer ?

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more information, see :

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