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The Most Dangerous Coping Mechanism in Business

In the face of bad news, plenty of managers respond with a very natural human emotion: denial.

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You might deny it, but it's true. In response to bad news, even great managers succumb to a perfectly normal human emotion: denial. 

When sales plummet, you lose a huge deal, or some other piece of bad news reaches your desk, it's not uncommon to experience the first stage of grief as a coping mechanism. But great managers recognize when this happens and learn ways to snap out of it, Ron Ashkenas, business book author and managing partner of Schaffer Consulting, writes in the Harvard Business Review.

Read on for Ashkenas's tips on how to recognize this response in yourself and keep it at bay.

Encourage your team not to sugar coat bad news.

Ashkenas says that denial is tricky--it's usually easier to spot in other people than in yourself. This means you need to rely more on your team. "Even the most open and honest of managers sometimes engage in 'wishful hearing' and interpret things the way they want them to be, instead of how they really are," he writes. "That's why really good managers value subordinates and colleagues who are not afraid to bring them bad news, tell them the truth, and help them peel away their own unconscious avoidance mechanisms."

Pay attention to the details. 

You may not recognize a downward trend in reports, news, or the market. Sometimes it takes keen observation of the minutiae to realize your company is headed towards trouble. "Facts and data are usually open to interpretation, and people have different underlying criteria for how they analyze them," he writes. "We all emphasize some things and discount others, based on past experiences, personality, and tolerance for discomfort." 

Talk it out.

Since there are never flashing red lights in business, you need to create an open atmosphere and discussion so that your team talks about developments both good and bad. "While denial can still occur, it is less likely when teams are able to look at the situation from multiple angles, challenge underlying assumptions, and eventually get a better picture of what's really going on," he writes.

IMAGE: Complot/Shutterstock
Last updated: Oct 31, 2013

WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
@WillYakowicz




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