Much has been written about the power of belief and the
positive impact it can have on our lives and our career.
Less emphasis has been placed on the negative power of beliefs
that inhibit our life and career success. We tend to use
them without realizing it, and they are totally irrational.
This article outlines three such beliefs.
Irrational Belief #1: Life
Should be Fair… Have you
ever watched a television program about people living in
poverty in third world countries, and noticed how so many
who have little more than a roof over their heads, and enough
food to eat, seem so happy and content. Have you thought “Gee
those people seem to be smiling and laughing more than most
people I know ever smile and laugh!” There may be
many reasons for this, but one can be understood by thinking
about a second type of television program. You can look at
nearly every sitcom produced over the last 50 years and see
a common pattern. From the old Andy Griffith Show, to I Love
Lucy, right up to Frasier, Friends, and The Office, the pattern
is that the characters experience problems, but the problems
are resolved within the half hour show, and there is nearly
always a happy ending. (I see Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm
as Larry David’s “exceptions that prove this
This pattern is reflective of our society,
one that differentiates us from many simpler societies. If
I can coin a phrase, it can be described as Happy Days Syndrome.
This is a strongly held belief that life must be fair and
problem free. And if we do experience unfairness or experience
problems we can rely on “the Fonz Factor” to
resolve everything within a half hour.( This coining phrases
is fun.) If it isn’t readily resolved we are unhappy
and upset because it contradicts our belief about life.
you think about it, the belief that life must be fair and
problem free is totally irrational. I doubt there is anybody
in the world that has had a totally fair and problem free
life. For most of us life is a series of ups and downs, sometimes
more ups, sometimes more downs. But the pattern holds true
This is one example of an irrational belief that
causes those who hold it, a great deal of frustration and
unhappiness. On the other hand, those who know that life
contains good times, bad times, fairness, and unfairness,
(such as the people in developing economies described above)
aren’t disappointed, and as long as they have the basics
of food and shelter, tend to be much more satisfied with
There are many more such irrational beliefs. I’ll
focus on a couple that are typical of managers; they not
only cause unhappiness to those who hold them, but also contribute
to poor management practise.
Irrational Belief #2: I Must
Personally Have the Solution to All Problems One of
the most commonly used criteria when evaluating management
potential is problem solving/decision making. Part of a managers
job is to be able to solve problems. That’s rational!
However, many stretch the meaning simply by adding the word “all”.
Being able to solve all problems is irrational. Nobody can
solve all problems. This belief can lead to several negative
The most prevalent is a supervisor’s
reluctance to discuss problems with team members just in
case a problem comes up for which he/she doesn’t have
a solution. Similarly, one reason that the implementation
of performance management systems is so difficult is that
supervisors are afraid that employee will ask them something
about the development or their career that they can’t
I’ve found that, when implementing concepts
like team problem solving, or development/career discussions,
it really helps to emphasise to managers that they are allowed
and even encouraged to say “I don’t know”.
Of course it helps if you follow this by saying “I’ll
find out for you,” or “I can refer you to someone
who does know” or even “let’s discuss it
in more detail and maybe some ideas will come to you”.
Irrational Belief #3: When Something Goes Wrong Someone
Must Be to Blame I’m sure we’ve all met a manager
or two who holds this irrational belief. Not only is it irrational
but it’s dysfunctional. Rather than look for someone
to blame, it’s far more productive to look at such
issues in the context of opportunities to learn; problems
that must be resolved; or strategies to ensure it doesn’t
happen again. Of course this doesn’t mean that no one
is ever to blame. If someone is accountable then appropriate
action should be taken, but the thing to avoid is the immediate
blame reaction; and the anger and recriminations that come
with this style.
And There Are More: There are too many such
irrational beliefs to be addressed in a short article. The
important point is to be able to identify them and, if they
occur, to debate them. Watch out for some of the following:
the manager so I must be right
- My team members must
- If doesn’t matter at all if my employees
don’t like me.
- I’m a manager so I must
be perfect. (a belief predominate among oldest siblings
in a family)
- I’ll delegate but things must
be done my way.
- I must always be in control of
it feels right, it must be right.
For further reading on
the subject I’d recommend any one of the books of Albert
Ellis. One of Ellis’s guidelines is to watch out for
any belief that contain either of the words “must” or “should”.
These are most likely irrational. In fact he termed this
propensity to live in the world of must, or should “musterbation”.
What to do! The concept of irrational belief is a simple
one and one that, when brought to peoples’ attention
always seems to resonate. However, breaking the pattern isn’t
easy. One early and important step is to take time to recognize
the irrational beliefs that limit your development and well-being,
then to develop a strategy to combat them. Once again we
can’t detail such strategies here, so I’ll revert
to a quote by Marlene Dietriech while being interviewed about
a recently published autobiography. When she was asked to
go into detail about a particular stage in her life she snapped “Read
the Book!” And a very readable book on the subject
of combating irrational beliefs is “Feeling Good” by
David Burn. A recommended read!
Unable to resist plugging
a product or two, Touchstone also publishes a book that addresses
the subject, (Make Training Work) and offers a similar one
day workshop called “Growthgoals.”
For more information