A Sideways View

New stirrings in business psychology

Distorted Thinking

How to think straight

Does your boss need CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy)? Currently the most popular psychological treatment for a range of problems, particularly depression, it is reputedly successful, quick and cheap...hence its appeal to so many.

Over 50 years ago an American psychiatrist called Aaron Beck noted the automatic and distorted thinking of a number of his patients that was deeply unhelpful for themselves and all those around them. The way they thought about and tried to understand events that happened to them seemed to be the major cause of their problems. Thus the idea was that if you changed their way of thinking you might resolve their problems.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

For the most part this distorted thinking was about people’s own behaviour and this seemed to cause them anxiety and depression. Thus, for instance, you could explain the fact you failed your driving test because you are poorly co-ordinated, can’t multi-task or “go to pieces” in heavy traffic. Another way of viewing the same result would be that you had a poor driving instructor, insufficient lessons, or just had a particularly tough examiner.

The worst thing you can do is to explain your failures using internal, stable and global factors and your successes with external, unstable and specific factors. An example would be you failed the test because you are pretty dim, always have been and this has blighted your life. And you (luckily) passed a different exam because you had a brilliant teacher, who unfortunately left, and the result was unimportant anyway. With CBT you are taught to take credit for your successes and consider other causes of failure.

Mostly CBT is aimed at helping people think about themselves differently. But what if they have distorted beliefs about others? About those they work with or those who work for them? This is to blame others for failure which may actually be one’s own.

To go back to the original list of distorted thinking, consider the following and ask yourself whether you or your boss display any of them:

All-or-Nothing Thinking: Things are all black or white, good or bad, feast or famine, bull or bear market. If you fall short in any small and temporary way you are a total failure. So you wobble between hero and villain, not always knowing when and why you are in the one camp or the other. And spending most of your time as what the Freudians call “a bad object”.

Overgeneralisations: This is coming to big conclusions based on single, small, even insignificant pieces of evidence. A single mistake means you are an error-prone failure. The words ‘always’ and ‘never’ often occur here. You are ‘always’ late, clumsy, or complaining, despite the evidence that these behaviours occur infrequently.

Dwelling on the Negative: Here one rotten apple spoils the barrel, meaning picking on one, single negative event and dwelling, focusing and obsessing on it such that the sky darkens and stays dark.  All your successes are forgotten, yet your failures are always remembered, dragged up and used to punish you and all around you over and over again. The glass is always half empty; the sky is growing darker; the end is nigh.

Discounting the Positive: This is seeing anything positive as a freak event, an aberration and a non-repeatable happenstance that doesn’t count in the evaluation of people. Luck, chance and fate are the causes of your success.  It was not your ability and charm that made the sale: the client was a dim, unassertive softy.

Mind Reading: Making arbitrary assumptions about what others are thinking and feeling and never bothering to check it out with them. This is the worst sort of amateur psychologist, certain that they can always tell what others really believe and think despite the fact that often they say the opposite. So the boss knows your staff don’t respect you, your clients don’t trust you and your peers mainly despise you...despite the fact that you have good relationships with all of them.

Fulfulling Self-fulfulling Prophecies: Believing that something bad is going to happen to you (because you deserve it) and behaving such that it actually occurs. Making sure you get all the bad stuff you really deserve.

Catastrophizing: Blowing little things way out of proportion to fulfil negative expectations. Making a small slip or error into a full-blown, major episode that goes into the file and is rehearsed again and again.

Denial: Ignoring, minimizing or downplaying important information or events that are about the boss’s incompetence and not yours.

Emotional Reasoning: Assuming that negative emotions are an accurate reflection of how things really are. I feel it is true therefore it is. I feel you are second rate and treat you as such.

Motivation by Should and Shouldn’t: Trying to whip behaviour into shape by using various words like ‘must’, or ‘ought’ or  ‘should.’ No reasoning, just guilt-installing.

Labelling:  Instead of attempting to describe or understand behaviour, people are labelled with highly emotive language. You are “unreliable;” “untrustworthy” and “incompetent.”

Personalization: Seeing someone as the cause of the event and neglecting to consider all the other factors which may play a significant role. Never understanding all the forces and factors that lead to work success and failure.

 

Adrian Furnham, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at University College London and the Norwegian Business School.

 

more...

Subscribe to A Sideways View

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.