Posts Tagged ‘denial’

In Pursuit of Fearless

May 29, 2015

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

rejecthand

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.

Timing

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: www.pwkinc.com

Beware of Maps & Traps

June 2, 2013

sandtrap

Most often, decisions are made by building models or maps in your mind based on what’s worked before. Then, people typically follow the old map. This common process has inherent dangers. The resulting flawed decisions have a host of other implications.

What habits of mind can unintentionally enable errors?

Illusions are one significant challenge. Three specific illusions can cause problems: (1) the belief our own ideas are superior to others (2) the tendency to overestimate chances of success (3) the false perception of control.

Priming is another common response to our environment that demonstrates how susceptible we are to external cues. For example, wine shoppers in a supermarket purchase considerably more French wine when French music plays and more German wine when German music plays.

Be aware humans are significantly influenced by titled positions and a desire to be an “insider.” This is known as crowd or herd behavior. If the ethics or skills of leaders are less than stellar – it can cause considerable grief in organizations and communities.

Most Destructive

Denial is the motherlode of dysfunction. Denial has direct connections to maps. It occurs when reality is so unappetizing that people refuse to acknowledge it. Harvard professor Richard Tedlow says it happens when “the smartest people in the room” can be very dumb. In his book, Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Face Facts, he cites tabloid examples like Enron along with well known companies like Coke, Ford, and IBM.

Action Steps

Denial is in play when people refuse to adjust course and oppose trusted advisors in the face of clear evidence. Here are a few ways to tackle it:

(1) Call out people who dismiss facts or create a version of reality (rationalize)

(2) Insist on straight talk with facts

(3) Challenge assumptions

(4) Avoid groupthink, its the same as crowd or herd behavior

(5) Aggressively create new culture  that lauds inquiry, evidence and learning

(6) Watch for symptoms of denial in your own thinking and others

In golf, “going to the beach” hurts your score. A sand trap is an unwelcome detour. When managing people, recognize and avoid common traps of the human mind. Get a firm grip on perception (what we see) and reality (what is).

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: www.pwkinc.com

Feedback Fosters Growth

January 3, 2013

bestopenhands

How would you feel if someone had great information that could help you be more effective in your work but they kept it from you? Would you be: resentful, concerned, distrustful, irritated?

Some months ago, we asked a renowned colleague for his perceptions of a key presentation we had done. He gave my business partner and me some surprising information that nobody has indicated before – ever. It was very useful; we were grateful.

Different from Gossip or Rumor
Feedback is a gift. It is different from gossip, rumor or nagging. Feedback comes from a credible source, has authentic other-centered intent and makes a constructive contribution that’s actionable. It is a particular kind of qualified opinion.

Far too many manager-leaders avoid offering feedback because it is hard to be a messenger of less than good news. It can be uncomfortable and create tension. However, when motivated people get a chance to “fix” something they are generally very appreciative.

Feedback: When & How
Most of the time, feedback has a positive outcome. However, it’s best delivered under certain conditions. Delivery must be from a reliable source in a functional relationship, offered one:one privately and never during a crisis. Feedback should be invited and occur in a context of accountability. Sometimes, feedback is wasted. Typically, this reflects a bad reception by the recipient. Reception challenges happen most often when people are unwilling to listen, the content doesn’t fit with their self image, there’s resistance, denial or no intention for change. It’s always wise to request permission before speaking.

Seek and Discover
In dynamic circumstances, we all must adapt to ensure effectiveness. This means the development of new skills and knowledge are not an unusual event but an on-going expectation we should hold for ourselves. To capture the idea of perpetual learning, Stephen Covey used the expression “sharpen your saw.” We need to model the courage it takes to ask: “How did you experience me?”

Choose When Thoughtfully
In an uncomfortable situation, a colleague took a good idea we’d entrusted to him in confidence. The “thief” took the concept, secured funding, and implemented it poorly. He has avoided us since. We suspect he’s embarrassed. This man never acknowledged his larceny. Others are unlikely to hold him accountable for his lack of integrity.

We’ve considered a face:face conversation. While several of the “tests” for providing feedback are met, the context suggests any additional effort is unlikely to be productive. Why? His reception challenges are among those noted above. There’s no accountability. Further, any comment, uninvited is likely to be considered shaming. Shaming rarely leads to any substantive change. Regrettably, this guy appears to confuse posing and a deep desire to “fit in” with leadership.

Hunger Every Night
Most people go to bed every night with hunger – for recognition. One of the best ways to support people, build true allies and develop your organization is feedback. It indicates you notice the efforts others are making. It supports accountability, employs interdependence and ensures the benefits of synergy. Your colleagues and others have great information that can improve your work.

Get and Give
I once heard former Kellogg Company CEO and US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez comment on feedback: “For me, it’s like spinach. I don’t always like the way it tastes, but I know it’s very good for me.”

An organization or community rich in feedback supports learning and performance. Make this New Year resolution: Routinely invite feedback. When you’re a credible source and there’s potential for reception – offer it.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer 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 : http://www.pwkinc.com

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 : www.pwkinc.com

Mistakes Smart People Make

October 2, 2011

Twyla Tharp

“The best failures are the private ones…” writes Twyla Tharp, renowned choreographer, in Creative Habit.

Our work places and our communities, however, are public social spaces. While learners don’t seek failure it can be an enormous source of new knowledge. A willingness to fail is certainly an essential element of learning.

Three Common Blunders

The human brain (and ego) is a remarkable asset, but it can be an obstacle to success. Sociologists, psychotherapists and anthropologists offer some vital insights to manager-leaders about the brain and behavior. There are three common mistakes smart people make:

Denial – a refusal to acknowledge an error.

Loss Chasing – the inability to “make peace” with an error which causes more damage in a pattern of additional mis-steps.

Hedonic Edits – revisions that either convince ourselves errors don’t matter or reinterpret errors as success.

We’re all guilty of these mistakes – sometimes. Great leaders have found intentional ways to minimize or even eliminate these common human blunders. Denial is avoided more often when we can separate errors from our self-worth. Loss-chasing is reduced if there’s self-awareness and adaptation. Hedonic edits occur less frequently if we  face the mirror with   clear recall and brutal candor. Humility is an antidote for all these quirks.

Get & Give

Regrettably, our capacity to revise our internal personal stories often becomes part of a public profile. Humans are social and so we massage, arrange and position material to manage image – for ourselves and others. While ruthless review, reflection and action towards self improvement is constructive, it may not be enough. Our inner critic can mislead or fail us.

For these reasons, honest advice has huge value.  Actively seek feedback from trusted resources. Tharp’s advice is “Challenge a status quo of your own making…All you need is people with good judgment in other parts of their lives who care about you and will give you honest opinion without strings.” In turn, after asking permission, offer caring, thoughtful feedback to help others develop.

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 : www.pwkinc.com

Making Progress: Costs and Risks

April 17, 2011

 

Before effective treatments were known for pneumonia and whooping cough, children died frequently in hospital wards. Every morning, hospitalized children would wake and ask about missing  friends: “Where did Charlie go?” The nurses’ common refrain was “He went home.” It was understood that home meant they’d died. The only way to preserve hope was to deny reality.

This poignant story is in Margaret Heffernan’s book, Willful Blindness. Across multiple sectors, cultures, and over time, she provides some thoughtful insights.   

 Shortcuts Are Costly

The Holocaust, Enron and MCI meltdowns, Madoff’s rip-off, Wall Street malfeasance, slavery and the Catholic Church’s sidestep of abusive priests  were all  man-made disasters. Why? Each reflected huge moral shortcuts. Harm was known but many preferred to ignore it. Daring to question an institution or a person can mean a loss of security. It is risk-taking.

 While denial can be a great coping strategy, it ought to be stricken from the quiver of accountable managers and leaders. It makes people and organizations “sick.” It has big costs. If your aim is creating change, there are many “uncomfortable truths” that require attention. To improve organizational performance and support growth, acknowledgement and action are essential.

 Big Progress

Big change can happen. The Marshall Plan is a historical example. It recast a large multi-country region and it’s future through the right work by and with important allies. George Kennan, a diplomat and architect of the Plan wrote about his agony and frustration in this change work. The effort to birth a great and bold plan was very, very difficult.

 More recent examples of important and intentional development efforts are creation of the European Union and reconciliation in South Africa . Step one is a close look at reality —  to understand and define  the current status. Sighting a feasible way forward depends on it. Heffernan writes that “unanimous decisions are incomplete…there is too much power…obedience…and conformity.” She counsels , if just one solution is visible, look again.

 The New Normal & Best Tactics

The high stress created by information overload, an excruciating fast pace, tremendous competition and/or an urgent mission does not excuse distance from moral reflection.  The preceding description of context is the new normal. And, it is present in any workplace or community. An analysis of the perilous implications from past ignorances can inform better tactics. Consider these :

  •  Look for what you cannot see. Many have said we didn’t foresee the catastrophe of 9/11 happening because were  weren’t looking for it. The information about it was present but we didn’t pay attention to it. Intentionally work to distinguish the trivial from the serious.
  •  Trust your intuition. It is well known that one indicator of useful critical thinking is discomfort. Your intuition provides inklings and suspicions – give it credit.
  •  Act sooner rather than later.  Before the stakes get big and stakeholders are deeply invested is the best time to raise questions. A failure to intervene early can feed the momentum of bad choices.

 Look, test, then act. People , organizations, communities  are desperate for leadership. Demonstrating integrity, the courage to meet the demands of reality, is directly connected to effectiveness.  Securing progress and sustainable results means you see both the risks of denial and the power of the truth.

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 an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

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 : www.pwkinc.com


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