Denial in the Workplace

Over the course of  the past two weeks, I’ve had discussions with three senior managers about various challenges their organizations are dealing with. Or to be more precise, challenges the senior leaders are not dealing with. For instance:

  • A middle manager with a history of claiming credit he’s not due—while denying credit to those who deserve it.
  • A senior manager who intimidates others with his angry tirades—he’s been tolerated for six years because he delivers results on the technical aspects of his job.
  • A board of directors admits to having “elephants in the room” and yet refuses to deal with them. Their thinking is, “We’ll take care of it but now’s not the right time.”

Why are these kind of things ignored instead of dealt with?

There are many reasons, of course.

One reason is that managers and senior leaders simply don’t know how to grapple with these kind of things.

Yes, they know what they should do.

But they also know what’s easier to do in the moment.

That’s right, nothing.

But to do nothing, leaders, managers and everybody else has to minimize and deny there’s something that must be addressed.

If we want to avoid something we have to give ourselves a reason to avoid it. So we…

Deny of the seriousness of what’s going on. (“I know this isn’t good, but it’s not that bad.”)

Deny there will be negative future consequences if we don’t deal with the matter. (“Maybe things will get worked out.”)

Deny responsibility. (The CEO should take care of this.) (And the funny thing is the CEO says, “They’re all adults, they need to take care of this.”)

Part of the problem with the discussion of “Employee Engagement” is denial.

Employees blame the leaders and leaders blame the employees.

Think there’s any denial going on here?

Now, to bring things home:

My challenge to each one of us is to look in the mirror and to ask ourselves, “What have I been in denial about?”

If we look at both our work and “personal” lives, we’re guaranteed to find something.

If we want to change what’s going on with denial at work (or anywhere else) the place to start is with self.

“What have I been avoiding?”

P.S. If you have been in denial over something in your workplace or in your life and want to successfully get past it and thrive, let’s talk about making that happen.



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