Hard to deny…


It’s human nature. A bit of it is linked to survival. Instinctive, almost. A lot of managers fall into the trap and it is hard to hook them out.

I’m talking about denial. Put another way, the fear of being wrong.

Managers are paid the bucks to be right. The more senior they are, the more they are paid bigger-bucks to be even more right.

Denial isn’t much more than the belief we can outwit the inevitable.

What are managers most in denial about? They deny…

• their employees know more than they do

• there is anything their employees need

• the data is accurate

• their projects are flawed

• their fear of being powerless to control events

The longer a manager is in a job, they more they are likely to fall into the denial-trap. They think they know their task and topic inside out and feel impervious to events, trends and changes.

People seldom leave a job, they leave a boss and one of the most frequent reasons is; ‘management is in denial’. Denial of the working conditions, the problems, resources.

Deniers are likely to focus on slender successes and build them into a cast iron reason for everyone to believe that ‘it will work’. Because it works ‘here’, of course it will work ‘everywhere’.

The fact is, usually, because it works here might be a fluke, or dependent on enthusiasts or a dozen other factors you can’t replicate.

Denying the facts…

• ‘The data is old, out of date or changed’.

• ‘The number crunchers have got it wrong.’

• Or, the subtle one; ‘the data was right but there has been huge improvement since’… but there’s no data.

Politicians in denial? Ever heard something like this; ‘Black is no longer white because we have invested £5m into changing the colour….’

Yeah, right. Has anyone done a colour check recently?

Denial spits in the face of the truth. You can’t be truthful to yourself, your staff and your boss if you are in denial.

To manage and manage well, you need a grip on reality.

Managers in denial don’t listen so eventually they surround themselves with people who have nothing to say.

A four-year study by LeadershipIQ.com, interviewed 1,087 board members from 286 organisations, of all sorts, that lost their chief executives…

… it found that almost one quarter of CEOs got fired for denying reality… refusing to recognise negative facts about the organisation’s performance.

One in four, wouldn’t recognise reality! I wonder what the numbers might be for the NHS.

Denying performance, data, finance, resource, workforce, quality, safety.

The management theory that sits behind all this is known as confirmation bias;

‘… the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.’

How do you work with a boss in denial?

Try and be on the ‘same side’ as the boss;

‘I know you want this to be a success but there is scant evidence it will be, let’s think about what we have to do to make sure it works.’

There’s a technique called mirroring; rephrasing, in your own words, the words of the boss.

It builds trusts and shows you understand how they feel about a situation… and feeling is a big part of denial.

Feeling it’s OK to confront reality is a difficult place to arrive at.

Be careful about using facts.

It invites ‘the-data-is-wrong’ defence. If the boss’s baby is ‘the project’ no amount of negative data will persuade them they are wrong.

The denier will dig-in their heels, have problems with self-worth, see their power and influence ebbing away, the world view changing.

Asking how the numbers where compiled and what was the source might give you a road into the light-bulb-moment of reality and avoid being the shot messenger.

Denial, chaos and confusion when we know management only works when there is acceptance, order and clarity.

If there is any good to come of denial it has to be that it is part of how we are made and we are made that way for a reason. Denial, gives us time to pace ourselves for reality.

That’s why working with a denier takes time and patience to arrive at the reality.

Reality is the way things are and mostly that’s because it’s the way we made them and that’s the hardest to deny.

Contact Roy – please use this e-address – roy.lilley
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Reproduced at TrainingPrimaryCare.com by kind permission of Roy Lilley.