Your ability to succeed in life is influenced by your ability to look at things as they are.
Developing this ability is not easy; it requires a certain kind of vulnerability too, with honest eyes, admit to yourself and others what is truly happening in certain circumstances and take ownership of what is yours.
Denial is a sinister thing, operating in the background of the unconscious mind.
It shows up in many different scenarios in both personal and professional settings. Do some of these ways sound familiar?
Someone has a death of someone close and claims not to be impacted by it.
A leader continually hears reports of grumblings from employees but does not address the issue.
Annual doctor’s visits report a decline in health, but the patient does not make the lifestyle adjustments to correct the issue.
An employee is frequently late or absent from work due to drinking the night before but does not think he/she has a problem.
Denial is a coping mechanism. It is a healthy response to challenging situations; the denial becomes unhealthy when you get stuck and frozen in a loop. Moving through acknowledging where denial may be influencing an area in your life is not difficult, but it does require courage.
Take an honest look at your situation, and how you contribute to it can be a decisive first step. This step moves you closer to creating a new reality for yourself and out of the role of ‘victim of the circumstance.’ It is an essential first step and usually requires facing a fear of some sort. What will life be like if I change that thing? Believe it or not, we also get attached to unhealthy patterns and feelings. The thought of life without even them is cringe-worthy.
Whether it is addressing an issue with health, addiction, or workplace culture, the first step is to acknowledge the existence of a problem. This acceptance is always tricky for most. The struggle with, “What does this mean about me?” Fear kicks in, and we avoid the change, which keeps the cycle of denial going.
What always comes up as an example for me when I think about denial is with a leader I once supported. He was an outstanding technical expert and was highly productive in his role. As he moved up, he became well versed in all the operational duties and functions, which led to a real understanding of how the business ran, which in traditional business models made him the natural next candidate for the managerial position.
The organization he worked in had a problematic culture, was unionized, and had lots of history of being resistant to change and innovation.
As he advanced into the manager’s role and began changing and developing new and innovative ways of doing things, he continued to hit roadblocks based on his organizational knowledge. As a result, frustration began to build and drive the way he was managing his people. His response to that was to write a story of “They are incompetent and do not know what they are doing.” It was a blanket statement that included everyone in the extensive workgroup and segregated him from his team. No one wanted to be around that judgment and criticism.
He initially reached out to get coaching on developing strategies about how to change his workforce.
After our introduction call, we both agreed to set up our first coaching session. We talked for some time, and I could feel the frustration burning inside my new clients every word and his contracted body language.
We paused. I asked, “What are you experiencing right now?”
His answer “Was a great deal of anger and frustration that I couldn’t do what I want to do because my people are incompetent” I said, “OK, can you tell me what is that you want to do.”
There was a pause. “I want to be successful and be seen as a success.”
“Great,” I said, “And where do all those people you manage fit in your success?”
“What do you mean?” He said.
I went on to say, “Well, you manage a large workgroup responsible for some significant operations. Doing it alone is not an option; is it?”
“No, it is not, I suppose,” He acknowledged.
“OK, where does that group of incompetent people, using your words, fit?”
He admitted, “I have not thought about that as I was too busy doing the work that I always have done.”
This realization was his ‘aha’ moment where he realized he was in denial about how important the others were to his success in this new role and that the way he did and looked at his work had to change.
We went on to work together for some time developing ways for him to improve his ability to connect with his teams, strategies to support him moving from manager to leader and implementation tactics to ensure the business culture would continue to grow.
He made significant shifts in his workgroup and, more importantly, working in a place of peace rather than frustration. It all started from the position of acknowledging that it was his problem to shift, not his teams or his organizations. His denial was preventing him from stepping into leadership.
This story is not an uncommon one, and most have experienced a version of it in their personal or professional lives. Creating something different for yourself or, in the case above, for yourself and your team is a daunting task at times. That daunting and overwhelming feeling comes when you think too far out or realize that change of any magnitude takes time and persistence.
Breathe. You got this! And know that there is support available when you need it.