Applied EQ #29: Project Managers and Stinking Thinking part 2

Note:  This was first published on 2/26.  I re-wrote and republished it on 3/6/06.

In the last post, we introduced the concept of cognitive disorders which can lead to emotional breakdowns.  Cognitive disorders may also be called twisted or stinking thinking.  David Byrns introduced 10 different types of disorders in his book The Feeling Good Handbook.  In our last post we addressed the first five of those disorders; here are the remaining five.

#6 Magnification (or Minimization) – With magnification & minimization, it is as if we choose to look through either a microscope or binoculars.  We magnify things with a microscope when we focus on our problems or shortcomings.  We change our field of vision so that we look at only the problems.

Minimizing is the opposite.  We minimize when we minimize the importance of our contribution, our positive qualities, or someone elses positive comments about us.   It is as if we have turned the binoculars around and are viewing our positive traits from a distance.  Both of these are ways of subjectively looking at ourselves and twisting reality.

I am sure you have heard others do this or done this yourself.  When complimented, I sometimes say something like, "anyone could have done the same" or "it was the whole project team that really delivered".

#7 Emotional Reasoning – Emotional reasoning is convoluted.  This is when we feel negative about something so we assume that things are negative.  This in turn can lead to us feeling worse which will propagate the cycle. 

As an example, consider those times when you felt angry or disappointed and you used that to justify your feeling that you were not being treated properly.  Perhaps your feelings lead you to believe that others were out to get you.  Your feelings lead to your stinking thinking which could then lead to feeling even worse.

#8 Should Statements – Should is a red flag word.  Period.  It has many negative connotations and where possible I advise you to strike it from your vocabulary.  When someone tells you that you should do something or should have done something, they are meddling, controlling, or shaming you.  Should is a word that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

You may direct should statements at yourself with the intent to motivate.  YOu might say something like, "I should have known better than to trust Jeremy" or "I shouldn’t have told them they could take until Monday on the deliverable".  Should statements can lead to guilt and frustration.  If you use should on yourself or on others, stop.  It is unhealthy. 

One way to overcome use of the word should is to use "I want" statements.  Instead of saying, you should turn in your status report by Friday (or worse, you should have turned in your status report last Friday), say "I want you to turn in your status report by Friday".  I want is a more direct and clean way of stating your expectations for the behavior you want. 

#9 Labeling – Labelling is when we affix a label to people or to situations.  Instead of separating ourselves or others from the behavior, we label the person.  For example, if we make a mistake we may say to ourselves "I am such a jerk", or "I am a loser".   We can even double dip on the negative disorders and say, "I am such a jerk, I always say the wrong thing".

Labels can be a way that we dismiss others.  For example, when someone gets angry in a meeting we might think, he is a jerk, he is a hothead, or he is a loser. 

Nicknames can be a subtle form of labelling.  Do you know people who have nicknames for everyone?  They are likely using labelling to dismiss others. 

#10 Personalization and Blame – Personalization is when we take responsibility for events that are not entirely within our control. We take personally what could be simply a random event.  We might combine personalization with a should statement and say something like "I should have known better and worked over the weekend to complete the deliverable". 

Blame is the opposite of personalization.  This is when we are quick to affix the blame for an event or incident.  Blame is when we put the responsibility for ourselves and our situation on others.

Personalization can be tricky for project managers and leaders.  Sometimes it is entirely appropriate to take responsibility for the results or outcomes of the team we are leading.  Sometimes we need to step up and say, that was my fault. 

A more balanced approach is to think of the principle of co-creation.  We co-create everything that happens to us.  We are partly responsible and others are partly responsible. 

The common theme with all of the cognitive disorders is that they have a negative connotation.  We are choosing to be negative instead of positive.  They often represent our own fears and dark thoughts.

The first step toward overcoming stinking thinking is to recognize what you are experiencing.  This type of thinking is a habit and perhaps one that we have had for our whole lives.  We need to be able to see and recognize the habit before we are able to change or eliminate it.  Like the other self-management concepts we have talked about, we can use some of the following techniques to overcome distorted thinking:

  1. Journal – Keep a journal of what has occured, our thoughts, and our feelings.  We can use this to track back and understand how cognitive disorders are impacting us.
  2. Get input from a trusted friend, spouse, co-worker, boss, or mentor.  Use their feedback to see where your thinking is distorted.
  3. Seek Professional Help.
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