Relaxing lockdown rules.
Sugar in your coffee.
Greggs for breakfast.
We tell ourselves stories to justify our behaviour.
They’re excuses we use to feel better about doing whatever we want.
This is called cognitive dissonance and today we’re looking at how (if you’re not careful) it can ruin your team and destroy your credibility as a leader.
Let’s get started.
Why is cognitive dissonance so important?
You use cognitive dissonance to convince yourself that the choices you make are justified (and therefore okay.)
For example, in lockdown, some people drank in the house but then started having friends over.
‘Other people are doing it, so it’s okay.
We’re just in the garden.
I’m keeping my circle small.’
People went to see their mums. Your neighbours had parties. Number 10 had a wine and cheese night. Others drove from London to Barnard Castle for an eye test.
The thing is, to everyone other than yourself – the excuses seem ridiculous.
As leaders, we lose credibility for single-mindedly pushing through an idea or insisting we know best.
It’s why Tony Blair will never admit there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.
He’s too far invested in the story he told himself to justify the invasion.
He can’t go back.
What impact does cognitive dissonance have on your team?
Your team will lose respect for you if you’re not prepared to admit when you’re wrong.
If you’ve committed to an idea and refuse to reconsider it, it’s hard to backtrack to save any respect.
You just end up making yourself look more of a tit.
But here’s the thing – making mistakes and being wrong is okay.
We’re all human. We all make mistakes.
It’s why it seems more ridiculous to people if you refuse to admit when you’ve messed up.
Making mistakes is okay so long as you accept it, admit it, and use the lesson to improve.
It’s essential to build a company culture where it’s okay to make mistakes – and that includes you making mistakes too.
Just be honest with people. Is it really that hard?
If your team doesn’t feel comfortable making mistakes, you won’t have any creativity or innovation. They’ll be scared to offer ideas or try new ways of doing things.
As leaders, we need to rethink our approach to mistakes if we want to stay ahead of the curve.
Because if your team isn’t creative, you’ll get left behind.
A quick lesson from Sherlock Holmes
“So we go around the sun? If we went around the moon or round and round the garden like a teddy bear, it wouldn’t make a difference. All that matters to me is the work.”
BBC’s Sherlock: The Great Game (Season 1, Episode 3)
Watson is shocked when Sherlock reveals he doesn’t know the earth moves around the sun.
Sherlock claims the fact is irrelevant to him. Knowing it (he says) stops him retaining crucial information like identifying every brand of tobacco by smell and touch.
He’s right. We only have so much mental space.
We make decisions based on our knowledge, experience and the information we have in front of us.
Decisions at work should be swift. Eventually either our knowledge, experience, or data will fail us, meaning we make a ‘mistake’.
Imagine how much more respect the public would have for politicians if they came out and admitted what they’d done wrong?
Instead of lying and only admitting things when they’ve been caught and there’s no other way to go?
We might actually feel a bit of empathy for them.
You aren’t perfect. You shouldn’t try to be.
Your team members aren’t perfect. Don’t expect them to be.
Insecurities and cognitive dissonance do not mix
Over-generalisation. Taking things personally. Self-doubt.
These unhelpful ways of thinking are what psychologists call “cognitive distortions”.
As managers, we need to help our teams and team members think more positively.
How many times do your own insecurities mean that you think everyone is talking about you?
The same is true for your team.
Change is possible, but we need to rewrite the narrative we tell ourselves and each other.
So what can you do to improve your company culture?
A behaviour change is needed to improve company culture. But changing behaviour is hard.
Habits become ingrained. And people can be resistant to change.
This is why it’s so important to get your culture right from the start.
If you have an existing team, you need to rewrite the stories people tell each other. This harnesses the power of group psychology.
So get your team involved in activities to shape your new company values.
Make your team central to change.
If everyone agrees with the new direction you’re headed, it makes it easier for people to hold themselves and each other accountable to it.
It means cognitive dissonance no longer rules – your new culture does.
Sometimes having a third party deliver this workshop can help because it distances you from ‘the change’ even further. Plus, it gives people a real chance to be 100% open and honest.
This is something I help my clients all over the UK with every week.
If you’d like a conversation about how this can work for your business,
email firstname.lastname@example.org now.