When Steve’s boss Tom wrongly fired the head of IT, it had a devastating effect. Some of the firm’s most capable IT people walked out leaving the department in chaos and forcing a temporary lockdown of the company’s key operations. Despite the upheaval, Tom denied he had made a mistake. There had been some problems in the IT department but everyone familiar with the situation knew the responsibility lay not with the handling of the department but one of the company’s sub-contractors – a consulting firm hired by Tom.
Sourced through Scoop.it from: knowledge.insead.edu
Since I have to deal with many people, many who seemingly defy common sense that I had to dig into the issue of cognitive bias and psychological inertia. This is an interesting read on dealing with those who deny the existence of something that actually hinders them and they try and defend that right to not believe.
Denying reality a defense mechanism: The refusal to acknowledge and to reject overwhelming evidence is a well-known tactic of people described as “denialists.” According to the Oxford Dictionary, denialists are people “who refuse to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence.” They include creationists (“evolution is merely a theory”), holocaust deniers (“gas chambers did never exist”), CEOs of cigarette companies (“there is no relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer”) and banks (“we had no idea that rogue trading took place”), the Catholic Church (“there have been no pedophile activities among our priests”), or the deniers of Global Warming (“climate change has nothing to do with man-made CO2 emissions”).
What blinds denialists to reality and compels them to stick to specific belief systems? The answer is a formidable, ingrained defense mechanism. – Defense mechanisms are complex cognitive processes triggered during highly disturbing situations to protect our psychological equilibrium from anxiety or conflict. To maintain their Weltanschauung and rationalise or legitimise their position denialists may resort to distortions, half-truths, misrepresentation of their opponents’ positions and false logic. Most frequently, we recognise denialism at an individual level (a serious relationship conflict, an addiction, or an illness) but the problem can also occur within a greater societal context. One of the root causes of denialism on a larger scale is humankind’s tendency to subscribe to alternative narratives – our ideology, politics, religion, or other social issues – instead of to what is true. Denialism on a macro scale also occurs when a certain issue is also perceived as a moral stain in a country’s history – when an entire segment of society struggles with a specific trauma: the Turkish government’s denials of the Armenian genocide during the rule of the Ottoman Empire is a good example as is the need for better gun control in the US., or the denial of race issues.
The benefits of short-term denialism: Although denialism is considered a psychological dysfunction, short periods of denial are not without their advantages. Resorting to this defense mechanism can provide people with the opportunity to unconsciously process what has turned out to be highly distressing information. While this may work temporarily, in the long run denialism becomes extremely energy draining and costly. We could hypothesise that in the case of Tom, he was trying to protect himself by refusing to accept the truth of what has been happening in the company. His refusal to face the facts, even after having been fired, shows that he couldn’t face reality.