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.


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a decision with someone else – maybe in a group or just between the two of you – and the other person is clinging to outdated information, or worse yet, refusing to acknowledge the veracity or relevance of new information – information that would make a significant difference in the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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    Leadership Lesson 9

    Author’s note: This is the ninth in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.  Read them all here.


    When you’re not expecting to be on the sheer edge of a cliff, it is even more terrifying than when you are anticipating it.

    Most of the hike up and around Usery Mountain were of low to moderate challenge.  (If you’ve been reading the whole series, you’ll recall that we had an additional challenge of time pressure: my son’s flight was leaving a few short hours after we began the hike.)

    So when I suddenly found myself with just inches between me and, well, gravity, I was unnerved.

    Of course, I knew I wasn’t going to fall to my death.  We’ve already covered that.

    As I inched along with trepidation and great care, I took a quick glance down. You know, just to see how far it would be if I did fall.

    Big mistake.

    It was much, much, MUCH farther than I had anticipated.

    There wasn’t a switchback 20 feet below. There wasn’t anything below. At least that registered when I looked down. It was like staring into the abyss.

    When you’re doing something that requires great risk, courage and stamina, I propose that it’s best NOT to look down.  At least not at the riskiest, most grueling, character-building moment.  Sure, later it is fine. In fact, then it is highly rewarding to see how far you’ve come.  But at that tender moment when the mountain is steep and when so much is on the line, don’t look down.

    The same is true in leadership. When we are leading through high stakes, high risk situations – whether leading from the top or from the side – it is best to resist looking down.

    When we look down and see the magnitude of the risk we are taking, most of us will get a little scared. Some of us will get a lot scared.

    And whether it takes a little fear or a lot of fear to knock you off your game, you might just act on that fear and pull back a little:

    :  Not execute the plan as big as you had initially intended.

    :  Not run as hard against aggressive deadlines.

    :  Not delegate as much to the high potential staff member.

    If excitement gives way to fear and fear runs the show, you lose control.

    You lose control of strategy. You lose control of tactics. You lose control of control.

    So in those moments of high risk, those moments when it really matters, don’t look down. Instead, keep putting one careful foot in front of the other and take the next step and the next step.

    There will be plenty of time to look down later.

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    Leadership Lesson 7

    Author’s note: This is the seventh in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.  Read them all here.


    While on the seven-mile hike around Usery Mountain, there were stretches when I could see no one.

    No one on the path ahead of me.

    No one on the path behind or below me.

    With not even the whisper of a breeze, it was quiet. Very quiet.

    I appreciated the silence and the solitude. Mostly.

    But then I got a little lonely.

    It seemed to me that it would feel good to share in the triumphs of overcoming the challenging stretches and to share in the awe and the wonderment of the amazing views. To be in community with someone who was experiencing the same thing I was at the same time I was.

    It was missing.

    I was lonely.

    It reminded me how leadership can be very lonely sometimes. In your organization you might feel a certain peer-less-ness with no one at your level in the organization doing exactly what you are doing.

    No one with whom to share the victories.

    No one with whom to share the setbacks.

    No one to seek advice from or give advice to.

    That’s why leaders at all levels of the organization, not just senior leaders, need to find a peer group.

    Their peeps.

    People who get you and you get them.

    Earlier in my career I felt that sense of peerlessness as Director of User Experience in a large organization. I essentially ran an agency within a corporation.  We did great work and were highly respected.  But I was lonely.

    There were certain topics (struggles, frustrations with bureaucracy, etc.) that I deliberately chose not to share with my staff for reasons of professionalism. And I certainly wasn’t about to share those struggles with our clients, even though we all worked for the same company.  I didn’t have a peer who was doing what I was doing in the organization.

    And there were days when professional loneliness moved in and set up camp.

    Those were the days when it was so important to reach out to my peers outside of the organization. People I could learn from, commiserate with and rejoice with. People I could laugh with over the significance that was sometimes places on such insignificant matters.

    It felt good to be with them and when I reached out, I always wished I’d done so sooner.

    It is lonely at the top.

    Enjoy the silence and the solitude for a bit.

    And then reach out to others.

    It’s okay to be alone once in a while, but don’t go it alone.

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    Today as I was out for my early morning run, I came across this scene:


    Last night’s powerful thunderstorm created a new hurdle for me this morning. Literally. It reminded me of the hurdles we all face in all parts of our work and lives and how easily we can be stopped by them.

    Here’s a three step process for overcoming the next downed tree that blocks your path:

    1. Make a plan

    A bit of careful planning is the first step on getting past unexpected hurdles. It’s easy to react in the face of unanticipated roadblocks – and most of us do so much drama and theatrics. A few moments of planning will get you back in action more quickly than drama. What’s the next small action you can take to keep you on course? And then next one after that? Develop a list of action steps you can take that will each take less than 30 minutes. Small steps, repeated, are what get you to the finish line.

    2. Take action

    Now that you know what the steps are, take action. A plan without action is like a recipe without a chef. Use the plan, the recipe, and be in action. If you want to clear the hurdle rapidly, take massive action. Accomplishing some of the most immediate steps that you need to take to get past the hurdle will fuel your confidence level and you will be charged up to take on subsequent steps with gusto. Success breeds success.

    3. Get help

    Recognize that you can’t always surmount the hurdles on your own. Think realistically about the magnitude of the challenge, your resources, skills and knowledge, and the larger context in which this hurdle presents itself. Human beings are social animals and we get more done – and get it done better and faster – with the help of others. Do you need to hire a contractor, a constructor worker or a coach to help you past the hurdle? Get the assistance you need to powerfully overcome the hurdle and get back on course.
    This morning, as I ran around the lake, I climbed over the hurdle as did everyone I encountered. I didn’t see a single person who said, “Oh no. There’s a downed tree across the path. I’m giving up.”

    Not even close.

    >> A woman with a cane maneuvered over the tree trunk.

    >> A man lifted his dog (who was too big to get under it and too small to get over it) across.

    >> Cyclists dismounted and lifted their bikes over it.

    >> Countless runners took it in stride.

    What hurdle is in your path today? Make a plan, take action and get help.

    Share your thoughts in the comments.
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