Irrational Behavior? Find Out Why.

How do you explain someone’s irrational behavior or failure to deal with reality? Watch this week’s (video) blog to find out.

Your choice: Watch the video or read the transcript below.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re attempting to make a decision with someone else – maybe in a group or just between the two of you – and the other person is clinging to outdated information, or worse yet, refusing to acknowledge the veracity or relevance of new information – information that would make a significant difference in the decision you are working toward?
Maybe it is a new sales lead management system that’s going to replace a series of spreadsheets. And a colleague is adamant that the current system works just fine, the new system is an unnecessary expense and so forth.
When people ignore or deny information that conflicts with their existing beliefs, they are experiencing cognitive dissonance.

Their brain is grappling with the difference between the new information and what they believe to be true. When there is a gap, especially a sizable gap, between new evidence and what someone deeply believes, it is uncomfortable . . . and the brain seeks to make that difference go away. This can produce counter-productive behavior, and sometimes even irrational and bizarre behavior. Denial, excuse making, failure to see the obvious.

So what do you do when someone is exhibiting these behaviors? How do you get them to see the new information as valid, and integrate it with their existing knowledge base?

Start by stating what they do believe – at least to the best of your ability. Something like this: “If I understand you correctly, the sales process we’re using now works just fine.” Starting from their baseline makes them feel understood, it validates their position.

Next, point out a problem with the current state, one that directly impacts them. “With our current system, senior leaders have to rely on self-reported data when determining who has exceeded their sales quotas.”

Get agreement to the problem and then point out how that specifically impacts them. “You and I both know that others have received bonuses when they shouldn’t have.”

And then, make a clear link to how the new information, or system in this case, can solve the problem. Finally, if at all possible, give them some time to think about it. Suggest you meet again in a few days and regroup.

When cognitive dissonance runs deep, it will take a bit of time and patience to integrate the new information into their reality.

So the next time you run into erratic, unreasonable or bizarre behavior from someone, take a moment to consider whether there is a significant difference between new information and their existing belief structure. If so, you’re dealing with cognitive dissonance. Use the tips presented in this video, and a dose of patience, to reduce the gap between their beliefs and the new information, so you can make a decision that’s in the best interests of all, and that everyone can buy into.

That’s today’s video blog.  I’m Janel Anderson with Working Conversations.

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    My daughter had a major meltdown on the second day of school.  Over shoes. She’s six. (Yikes!)

    We arrived at school without her “high-heels” pictured above. They’d made their debut appearance on the first day of school. She reported back that her teacher said high heels were not allowed in first grade. Based on that information, I removed said shoes from her backpack before we left the house on Day 2.

    Upon arriving at school and learning that the coveted shoes were not in her backpack, my beloved daughter responded with great drama. Now, drama is drama. Whether it is at home or office (or school), it really takes something to not get immediately sucked in as a full-fledged participant, being equally dramatic.

    In the shoe debacle, it was hard to keep from being unduly influenced by the unfolding drama of a first grader in tears. Not tears of sadness (that would have been much, much easier to empathize with and comfort), but rather hot, angry, raging tears. Much as I tried to remain calm, I admit it, I got sucked into the drama a few times.

    Emotions are contagious. I’ve written elsewhere about that recently.

    When I felt my exasperation overtaking my empathy and my attempts at being rational, I took a few steps back (literally, I needed the distance) and breathed deeply. This is a skill I’ve been working with my daughter to develop, too.  Whether we are six, the mother of a six-year-old, or working with those who are 26, 36, 46, 56, or 66, things don’t always go our way. We suffer set-backs, road blocks and rules that we balk at.  And so do the people around us.

    The more we can keep our head on around others who may, for the moment, seem as if they’ve completely lost theirs, the faster they will come around.  For every moment that I expressed my exasperation, it took twice that time to calm my daughter down.  The more I could be calm and rational, the more it created a space for her to be calm and rational. My emotions are contagious on her, too.  And that’s important to remember when emotions are running high and hot.

    Resolution came in the form of recognizing each other’s needs. I acknowledged that she had a “need” to have her high-heels with her at school that day, despite not being able to wear them. She “needed” them in her backpack.  I needed to get to the office, a need she had little care or concern about. But in order to get my need met, it was critical that I acknowledge her perspective, validate her concern and commit to future action (she could take the shoes to school tomorrow).

    If you’ll excuse me, I need to go check that her shoes are in her backpack!

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    I recently went kayaking and while I was out on the water, I had these observations about the similarities between kayaking and having a difficult conversation at work:

    1. Do the hard part first. In the kayak, paddle into the wind first, if you have a choice. Size up the waterway, the wind, and any other environmental factors you are aware of and chart your course accordingly. Focus on the most difficult part first, paddling into the wind if you must.

    At work, get the hard part of the conversation over and done with first. If you’ve got difficult news to deliver, be direct and be swift (and diplomatic, of course!). You’ll also come across as more sincere. It leaves a bad impression when you make small talk for 15 minutes and then deliver bad news.

    2. You have to steer to get where you want to go. The kayak won’t naturally take you where you want to go without you being cause in the matter. You may have to paddle hard to the right to explore the cove you’ve spotted up ahead.

    And in conversation, you can’t expect it to naturally go where you want it to when you have a specific topic you need to discuss. A hope and a prayer won’t get you there.  You have to take conscious, deliberate action to move the conversation to where you need it to go.

    3. Coasting is unpredictable. Sometimes in the kayak you need to rest. Or you want to. Whether your arms ache from paddling or you just want to soak in the moment, coasting is important. But it is incredibly unpredictable. Even if you think you’ve accounted for the wind and the waves and you think you know where they will take you, you don’t.

    Likewise in conversation: when you take your eye off the target and lose focus on where you want the conversation go, you will most likely end up in unfamiliar territory.  You might really enjoy where it takes you. Or, you might find yourself treading water on a dicey topic. It can be fun. It can be dangerous. It can be both – at the same time!

    4. It will be messy. In the kayak you will get splashed. Even if you are an experienced kayaker, be prepared to get wet. Water drips from the paddle, it splashes from the waves, it seeps into your shorts and soaks the magazine you brought along to read when you found that “perfect spot.”

    The conversation will go somewhere unanticipated. It will be uncomfortable. It will be difficult. You will make mistakes, say the wrong thing, be misinterpreted. Despite your best intentions. But the trust and respect that comes from taking on a difficult topic will deepen the relationship and make the mess worthwhile.

    5. The “other guy” doesn’t have it as easy as it seems.  The guy who passes you with a friendly wave from his sailboat, looking like he has the wind at his back and hardly has to do anything to zip past you has had his own share of challenges. Sure, he makes it look easy, but there’s a lot of hard work and effort that went into that.

    And the person at work who makes salary negotiation, giving critical feedback and conducting performance reviews look easy has had to work hard to develop those skills. For most people, effectively conducting difficult discussions does not come naturally. Honor the work that has gone into learning the important skill of facilitating tough conversations.

    6. There will be unexpected surprises. You will be paddling along in the most peaceful part of the lake. You will be thinking deep thoughts or no thoughts whatsoever. And a big fish will jump right near your kayak, startling you practically out of the boat.

    The conversation will be going swimmingly. And then your counterpart shares some unknown facts or some difficult news.  Or perhaps it’s good news. Either way, it may knock you off balance. That’s okay. It’s bound to happen.  Steady yourself, take a deep breath, and listen deeply. You’ll know what to say next.

    7. Take risks. Be vulnerable. Take the life jacket off. Live a little. What’s the fun of going all the way out into the middle of the lake if you don’t enjoy the feel of the warm sun on your shoulders?

    In conversation, take a risk.  Say what you need to say, even if it may not be well received. Be courageous and speak up. Deliver the difficult feedback to the person who would benefit immeasurably from knowing. Step up to the challenge.

    8. You can go farther than you think you can. Your arms may be sore from paddling. The hot sun may be beating down on your back and bouncing off the water onto your face. You may be tired, but you can always paddle one more stroke. You really CAN make it to the other side of the lake or miles upstream or wherever you’re headed. And even farther.

    You can build more trust and more respect into that conversation and take it farther than you thought it could go. You can learn more about the other person, disclose more about yourself, and see where the conversation takes you. You can go farther in one conversation than you ever thought you could.

    9. You don’t have to be an expert to succeed. A beginning kayaker gets out onto the water and experiments. The mere act of getting in the boat, learning to paddle and making the vessel glide through the water, with even moderate proficiency is a huge success.

    And in conversation, you don’t need to be an expert at facilitating dialogue to get great outcomes. You took on a tough subject, raised a sensitive issue. That alone is something many people shirk from. You are a success because you had the courage to take it on. Bravo!

    10. It is rewarding. In the kayak, you can go places you’ve never been. And you can see sights you’ve seen thousands of times from a new perspective. You came. You paddled. You saw. The rewards are limitless.

    After the conversation you’ll be proud of yourself for initiating it. And the rewards will last long after the conversation is over. You’ll reap the rewards through your increased confidence, your track record, and most likely, a successful resolution to a difficult situation. Paddle on!

    Like this? Share this post with a friend today.

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