Denial

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People don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed – Nietzche.

I am interested in the concept of denial, partly because I have experienced it myself. The extent to which we can deny things, to others, to own self, fascinates me.

Denial is a defence mechanism. We use it to avoid facing uncomfortable truths. Even if there is evidence literally staring you in the face, we are expert at ignoring it, disregarding it, minimising it. And if we do spot the problem, we tell ourselves that it’s no big deal, nothing to worry about, it’s someone else’s problem but not ours.

We all do it. We tell ourselves that we don’t eat too much junk food, that the extra glass of wine won’t hurt, that we are doing plenty of exercise, that we don’t really work too many hours.

What we believe as truth, what we think we know and understand, is not necessarily real. We see what we want to see; our mind protects us from the uncomfortable truth. Reality distorts.

Denial is powerful.

Take organisations. Have you ever seen one with a terrible culture, but no one really seems to notice? We think things are okay but they are not. We accept something substandard at work because we don’t see that it is so. We humans favour information that confirms our beliefs, that isn’t too much of a challenge. Better to think that things are okay than to face what a different type of reality might really mean for ourselves, the company.

We can’t attract talent because of the location. People leave because they get made an offer they can’t refuse. Of course everyone gets a performance review. People work long hours because they want to. We are a flexible company. We manage change well. Our mind hunts for the evidence to prove that these things are so; the confirmation bias.

Culture is a boiling frog. Problems in organisations can happen so slowly you simply don’t notice. It is easy to deny it is happening. We pretend, rationalise, justify, excuse. Everyone colludes in putting their collective heads in the sand. Denial.

In every organisation there are stories, anecdotes, beliefs. Things that are generally accepted to be true. So step back. And really look. Look hard at yourself, your company, your culture. It’s uncomfortable I know.

Then ask yourself. Which is it?

Reality, or belief?

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