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Fear of Learning by Chip Bel Deny RealitylGuest Post by Gleb Tsipursky

When was the last time a colleague said something so ridiculous that it made your jaw drop? From politics to science to business issues, there are times people’s beliefs are so out of touch with reality, we are astounded.

Our typical response when people deny reality is to confront them with the facts and arguments. But research suggests that’s exactly the wrong thing to do. Arguing rarely changes people’s minds on charged issues.

Research on confirmation bias shows that we tend to look for and interpret information in ways that conforms to our beliefs. There is an emotional investment in continuing to believe what you want to believe. Furthermore, studies on a phenomenon called the backfire effect shows when we are presented with facts that cause us to feel bad about our self-worth or worldview, we may sometimes even develop a stronger attachment to the incorrect belief.

Rather than arguing, it is much more effective to approach these colleagues through dialogue. It can be helpful to use this research-based strategy, depicted by the acronym EGRIP (Emotions, Goals, Rapport, Information, Positive Reinforcement), which provides clear guidelines on how to deal with people who deny the facts.

For instance, consider the case of Mike, a new product development team lead in a software company. He set an ambitious goal for a product launch, and as more and more bugs kept creeping up, he refused to move the date. People tried to talk to him, but he hunkered down and kept insisting that the product would launch on time and work well.

EConnect with their emotions.

If someone denies clear facts you can safely assume that it’s their emotions that are leading them away from reality. While gut reactions can be helpful, they can also lead us lead us astray. What works better is focus on understanding their emotions and to determine what emotional blocks might cause them to stick their heads into the sand of reality.

Unfortunately for Mike and his team, he tied his self-worth and sense of success to “sticking to his guns,” associating strong leadership with consistency and afraid of appearing weak in his new role as team lead. He believed team members were trying to undermine him by getting him to shift the schedule and admit he failed to deliver. This false association of leadership with consistency and fear of appearing weak is a frequent problem for new leaders, especially ones with insufficient training in emotional leadership.

GEstablish shared goals.

Understanding Mike’s fear and insecurity about being a new leader, establish shared goals for both of you, which is crucial for effective knowledge sharing in professional environments. You can speak with Mike about how you both share the goal of having him succeed as a leader in the long term, and secure his new position in the company. Likewise, you both share the goal of having the new product be profitable for the company.

RBuild rapport.

Rephrasing in your own words the points made by the other person helps build trust. Use empathetic listening to echo their emotions and show you understand how they feel. Speak to Mike about how it must hard to be worried about the loyalty of one’s team members, and also about what he thinks makes someone a strong leader.

IProvide information.

At this point, start providing new information that might prove a bit challenging, but would not touch the actual pain point. You could describe how research suggests one of the most important signs of being a strong leader is the ability to change your mind based on new evidence, giving examples such as Alan Mulally saving Ford Motor Company through repeated changes of course. You could also highlight how a public commitment to integrity through taking the Pro-Truth Pledge is invaluable for strong leaders in all levels of the organization, as it makes them more credible and trustworthy. If you had begun with this information, Mike might have perceived it as threatening, but slipping it in naturally as part of a broader conversation after building rapport built on shared goals and empathy would increase the likelihood of Mike accepting it calmly.

PProvide positive reinforcement.

Then, ask Mike where he can best exhibit these characteristics to show those who might try to undermine him what a strong leader he is, and at the same time make the new product as profitable as possible. Direct the conversation toward how he can show strength by delaying the launch of the new product. After he agrees, provide him with positive reinforcement by praising his ability to exhibit the traits of a strong leader.

Good luck, and remember that you can use EGRIP not simply in professional settings, but in all situations where you want to steer others away from false beliefs that cause them to deny reality.


deny reality Disaster Avoidance Expert Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is a consultant and speaker on decision-making and emotional and social intelligence for businesses, nonprofits, and municipalities.

The author of the Amazon bestseller The Truth-Seeker’s Handbook: A Science-Based Guide, he is a professor at The Ohio State University, President of the nonprofit Intentional Insights, and co-founder of the Pro-Truth Pledge.

He regularly publishes in prominent venues, including Time, Scientific American, Psychology Today, The Conversation, Business Insider, Government Executive and Newsweek. Connect with him via LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and email him at gleb[at]intentionalinsights[dot]org.



Photo Credit: Bigstock | How to Deal With Business Colleagues Who Deny Reality
The Risk When a Values-Driven Company Like Patagonia Takes a Stand
Most Popular Blog Posts of 2017

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